Saint Mary's 2017 Valedictorian Plans To Pursue Social Justice Through Study of Medicine

Elias Makhoul, 2017 SMC ValedictorianTwenty-one-year old Elias Makhoul, an accomplished student leader majoring in biology, has been named the valedictorian of the graduating class of 2017 at Saint Mary’s College of California. Makhoul will deliver his valedictory speech to more than 600 students on Saturday, May 27, 2017, at 9 a.m. during the undergraduate commencement ceremony held in the SMC Stadium, 1928 Saint Mary's Road, Moraga, CA 94575.

Award-winning journalist and San Francisco Chronicle Editorial Page Editor John Diaz will deliver the commencement speech to the undergraduate class.  

Makhoul has excelled academically at Saint Mary’s. He has a 3.75 GPA, is a member of the College’s Honors Program, recognized on the dean’s list, and his early efforts as a scientific researcher have garnered praise. His collaboration with Chemistry Professor Mark Lingwood to develop an MRI technique for enhancing the resolution and contrast between essential and nonessential areas in an MRI earned Makhoul recognition as the first runner-up for the School of Science’s prestigious Joseph P. McKenna Award for undergraduate summer research. Additionally, he was selected to present his research at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society and the Northern California Undergraduate Research Symposium.

Lingwood, a mentor to Makhoul, who worked with him during his summer research, believes he is an excellent choice for valedictorian. “Elias demonstrated high levels of dedication and perseverance by independently working to solve complex and ill-defined problems that arose in our research, which is a rare quality to find in an undergraduate research student.”

While Makhoul says he has always had an appreciation for science—the San Bruno resident plans on attending medical school after graduation—he’s also deeply committed to social justice. “My Theology Professor Michael Barram said to me that ‘If one part of the Saint Mary’s community is affected by something wrong, we all should try to do our part to fix it.’ That stuck with me and it gave me a new perspective on my life and interactions on our campus,” said Makhoul. His dedication to supporting other students on campus lead him to become a chemistry tutor for the College’s new STEM Center, and changing the misconception of science majors being solely focused on academics.

Makhoul has channeled his concern for helping others by promoting Saint Mary’s inclusion efforts, including working to improve and measure campus climate, increase student engagement in diversity initiatives, and helping to dispel stereotypes of people of Middle Eastern descent. A Lebanese-American and first-generation college student, Makhoul was a member of SMC’s Middle Eastern Club and an organizer and performer in the College’s annual Arabian Cultural Nights event. “Finding this club kept me close to my cultural ties, and provided other Arabic students with a safe space to be themselves and welcome non-Middle Eastern students to our culture as well.”

Saint Mary’s Dean of Students Evette Castillo Clark was pleased to learn Makhoul, who served on the dean's student advisory board, was selected as the valedictorian, calling his quiet leadership style admirable, sincere, and welcoming. "I found him to be genuinely warm, concerned about making our SMC community and college experience better for students." She added that Makhoul has "an all-around friendly personality who touches hearts when you come into contact with him."

In order to be considered valedictorian, a Saint Mary’s senior must have a cumulative grade point average of at least a 3.75, submit an application package, including a resume, an essay about the candidate’s experience at the College, and a list reflecting extracurricular and academic involvements, honors and awards they have received. Seventy-four students in this year’s graduating class had eligible GPAs for the honor, 21 applied, and seven were chosen for interviews before a committee of faculty, staff, and students made their final selection of Makhoul as the valedictorian for the Saint Mary’s class of 2017.

After graduating magna cum laude from Saint Mary’s with a bachelor of science degree, Makhoul will continue his pursuit of his medical education. In the fall he will enroll in the post-baccalaureate pre-med program at the Keck Graduate Institute, part of the Claremont Colleges consortium in Claremont, Calif.