US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Congrats to Katie Washington and Notre Dame

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There will be a major first at Notre Dame's commencement this weekend: Katie Washington will graduate and address her class as the school's first black valedictorian (as far as anyone can remember, at least).

It's an impressive feat for her, of course, but it is also impressive for the school, where black enrollees made up just 4.7 percent of the 2006 incoming class, according to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education.

Notre Dame is neither on the journal's best or worst list for graduation rate disparities between black and white students. Sadly many Catholic universities are on the worst list, with Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia topping off that list. The graduation rate for black students is just 20 percent, 48 percent below the rate for white students. "Perhaps black students at the university feel uncomfortable in a Catholic, overwhelmingly white college environment. But only 2 percent of the 1,200 undergraduate students at the university are black," says the article, which talks about the many factors that influence graduation rates, from k-12 education and family support to money and racism on campus.

I've heard from a friend that it can be difficult to be a minority on Notre Dame's campus. Certainly there's a lot to work on, but graduation is a time to celebrate.

And back to Katie Washington: What a woman! Not only did she earn a 4.0 grade point average with a major in biological science and minor in Catholic social teaching while being involved in a number of activities on campus, but she also sounds well-grounded, gracious, and humble, crediting her success to her parents and teachers. Her dad and mom, a doctor and nurse who work with low-income patients in Gary, Indiana, also inspired her to use her brains for others.

From the Chicago Tribune: "My mom grew up in a Gary housing project at a time when the world was saying, 'You're a black woman and there's so little you can do,'" Washington said. "Both of my parents were in situations where poverty was real. They were the underdogs, but they still fought and worked hard to change their lives and the lives of others."

But enough from me, you can see how amazing she is by watching this video from ND (here's the link if it doesn't load on this page):


Unfortunately, some have pointed out, this hasn't been a big news story nationally, but I hope to hear more about Katie Washington this weekend. Hopefully, we will hear more about her this weekend and in the future (hopefully in U.S. Catholic, too). With her next step being the M.D./Ph.D. program at John Hopkins University, I'm sure that her graduation will be just the beginning of an amazing career and life.