Viridiana Villalva Salas ’20 selected as the student speaker for the Class of 2020 Commencement
Due to the global health crisis, Connecticut College will hold a special remote event to recognize the Class of 2020 on May 17. It will be a time to celebrate the accomplishments of the College’s seniors.
When the Class of 2020 reconvenes for its official Commencement on May 30, 2021, Viridiana Villalva Salas ’20 will realize her lifelong dream of giving a speech at her own graduation.
“It’s not often that people with my background are given the opportunity to go to a college as prestigious as Conn, much less speak at Commencement,” Villalva Salas said.
Villalva Salas is a Posse Scholar from Chicago, Illinois, an English major, a scholar in both the Holleran Center for Community Action and the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program, and is pursuing her teaching certificate in secondary education. She was selected to address her classmates by members of the Commencement Student Speaker Selection Committee.
Villalva Salas completed a summer internship at Chicago’s largest network of charter schools, which influenced her senior integrative project on inequity within higher education and culturally responsive teaching in English classrooms. She also participated in the College Year in Athens program in Athens, Greece, where she conducted cross-comparison qualitative research focused on the differences in teaching practice in a local community school. As a result of her research, Villalva Salas was awarded the Charles ‘Bud’ Church Teaching for Social Justice Award. Her research adviser for both programs was English Professor Marie Ostby.
On campus, Villalva Salas worked as a senior admission fellow for the Office of Admission and as the house fellow for Jane Addams. She also was the artistic director for the Womxn’s Empowerment Initiative. After graduation, she plans to teach at a high school in downtown Chicago before pursuing a Ph.D. in education.
In keeping with the tradition of informing senior class speakers of their selection from the top of Tempel Green, Dean of Students Victor Arcelus took a laptop to the green to give Villalva Salas the news over a video call.
“It felt so unreal,” said Villalva Salas, who added that COVID-19 is just the latest of several obstacles that the resilient Class of 2020 has had to overcome and that she looks forward to a well-deserved celebration next year.
“We will all be coming back together after a full year of graduate school, jobs and fellowships. It won’t be like any other Commencement that has been seen on our campus.”