The Height of Success
April 29, 2022
By Stephanie Rizzo ’09
Rollins’ 2022 valedictorians reflect on the highlights of their college experience and share a glimpse of what’s next.
Exams are over, grades are nearly in, and Rollins’ 132nd commencement is on the horizon. And leading the pack of this year’s graduating class are five accomplished valedictorians with 4.0 GPAs.
This year’s College of Liberal Arts valedictorians are bound by a drive to serve their communities in addition to their outstanding achievements in the classroom. Hailing from across the United States and representing the realms of business, science, the social sciences, and humanities, they are aspiring authors, lawyers, therapists, and academics. And each of them is a changemaker in their own right.
Elizabeth Bonker ’22, Emily Curran ’22, Sofia Frasz ’22, Jessika Linnemeyer ’22, and Charlie Mellin ’22 have each forged a unique path through Rollins—one that has set them on an even greater journey toward meaningful lives and productive careers.
Mellin declined participate in our feature. While at Rollins, the English major built confidence in his academic abilities and credits mentors like English professor Jill Jones for equipping him with pivotal insights and techniques as he works toward his dream of becoming a professional writer.
We caught up with four of the valedictorians to talk about how their college experiences have defined them, what they’ll miss the most about Rollins, and what they’re most excited about in the future.
Elizabeth Bonker ’22
- Major: Social Innovation
- Hometown: Cranberry Lake, New Jersey
Elizabeth Bonker is a poet at heart, and like most creative writers, it took time to find her voice. But in Bonker’s case, it was a literal process. The social innovation major and English minor is affected by autism and cannot speak. When she was 6 years old, Bonker learned to communicate by pointing out letters. Now, she uses assistive tech to type out all of her verbal and written communication. And it turns out she has a lot to say. Along with her mother, Virginia Breen, Bonker is the author of I Am in Here, an autobiography containing more than 70 original poems, and much of her work at Rollins has been defined by activism. She is a member of Pinehurst and the founder of Communication 4 ALL, a nonprofit that aims to provide communication assistance to the 31 million people around the world affected by non-speaking autism.
My mentor and how they make a difference “Former head of external scholarships Jay Shivamoggi was my mentor while she was at Rollins. She met with me every week and even trained in assistive tech and communication skills to be a better communication partner to me. She encouraged my interest in public policy and sponsored me during my application for the Truman Scholarship. Although I didn’t win, I was a finalist and learned a lot during the process. Dr. Jay’s belief in me helped me find my voice as an activist.”
An experience I’ll never forget “When I first came to Rollins, I was a bit nervous. Would I fit in? Would people take the time to get to know me or would they judge me based on my differences and cast me aside? Happily, I’ve been embraced by the Rollins community and experience kindness on a daily basis. I will carry Rollins’ motto ‘Life is for Service’ inside me forever. I will never forget when my fellow valedictorians selected me to give this year’s commencement address. I felt such gratitude. The opportunity to address the 2022 graduating class is profoundly important to me, as I believe it will help raise awareness and set expectations for all non-speaking students. The very act highlights the diversity and inclusion found at Rollins, a community that means the world to me.”
What I’m going to miss the most “I will dearly miss the professors and students who have invested the time to get to know me. My one-finger typing is slow, and it takes me a little longer to express my thoughts. Every professor I’ve had has supported my mission and helped me be a better advocate for my peers. My friends at Pinehurst are passionate about social justice, and I will miss those conversations on the Pinehurst porch about how we are going to change the world.”
What’s next? After graduation, I will focus on running my nonprofit. We have a website, a new album of advocacy songs, and a social media plan to change the way the world sees and interacts with folks affected by non-speaking autism. I will also be collaborating with international disability rights advocate Judy Heumann. Long-term, I plan to pursue a master’s degree in public policy once I have a few years’ experience under my belt.”
Emily Curran ’22
- Major: Sociology
- Hometown: Cranbury, New Jersey
Emily Curran spent her time at Rollins deeply engaged with the sociology department, the Bonner Leaders Program, the Student Support Foundation (SSF), the Tutoring & Writing Center, and the swim team. Through the Bonner program, she worked closely with the Holocaust Memorial Research & Education Center, just 10 minutes from campus, where she has served as the first co-chair of the Take Action Institute, a resource center that equips high school and college students with the tools to enact transformational change in their communities.
My mentor and how they make a difference “Sociology professor Amy Armenia has been my advisor and mentor from the beginning. She taught my very first class, and since then, I’ve worked with her on collaborative research and a sociology course redesign. It was through our research on food deserts in partnership with Second Harvest Food Bank that I cemented my post-graduation goal of pursuing a PhD in sociology. She helped me navigate the grad school admissions process, connected me with opportunities in the discipline, and even introduced me to the person who will be my advisor at UPenn. She has also supported me mentally and emotionally, and I would not be where I am today without her.”
An experience I’ll never forget “My work with the Student Support Foundation [SFF] on campus has been a highlight of my time at Rollins. I used my platform as co-president of the SFF and director of our organization’s food pantry to create and strengthen partnerships with Dining Services on campus. Through this relationship, Dining Services secured SSF a grant from Sodexo that will help ensure our pantry remains stocked and accessible to our Rollins community.”
What I’m going to miss the most “I’ll miss the people at Rollins the most. My relationships with other students, professors, and staff have made my experience so meaningful. I’ll especially miss the time I’ve spent in Kathleen W. Rollins Hall, where I worked on the food pantry, collaborated with my SSF advisors Diana Ngai and Meredith Hein, met with Dr. Armenia, wrote my thesis, connected with staff from Student Affairs like Micki Meyer and Bailey Clark ’11, and learned from the incredible staff and team in the building. I will also never forget the quality time I spent with my roommates and friends. I’m grateful for the community building that took place in our home.”
What’s next? “Through my work with Dr. Armenia, I saw how sociology can be used to generate change. I’m eager to continue this work in graduate school and will be pursuing my PhD in sociology at UPenn, with a focus on the intersection of work and family.”
Sofia Frasz ’22
- Major: Public Policy & Political Economy
- Hometown: Hollywood, Maryland
Sofia Frasz believes in the power of music and art to effect change—so much so that she plans on devoting her life to helping fellow musicians build viable careers. The aspiring intellectual property attorney is the composer and vocalist behind Exiled Hope, a one-woman symphonic metal project that weaves Frasz’s policy interests and love of music into a full-out rock opera (we’ve heard it, it shreds). As a member of the Pinehurst Organization, a community-focused student club, Frasz rocked service projects like a fundraiser to provide food to families during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a member of numerous leadership and academic honors societies, including Omicron Delta Kappa, Pi Sigma Alpha, and the nation’s most prestigious academic honor society, Phi Beta Kappa.
My mentor and how they make a difference “Professor Chuck Archard from the music department was the first person to bring up the idea of becoming a music attorney. I wanted to find a way to merge my interests in music, art, and public policy, and he encouraged me to look into intellectual property law as a potential career path. I would not have discovered this unique personal mission without his encouragement.”
An experience I’ll never forget “I don’t think I’ll ever forget my first trip to the Genius Preserve across the lake with my American Philosophy class. It was so wonderful to learn about the history of the College and the legacy of former president Hugh McKean and his wife, Jeannette Genius McKean, and their role in establishing the preserve, all while getting to experience it firsthand.”
What I’m going to miss the most “I’ll miss game nights in the Pinehurst common room, study sessions with friends, walks down Park Avenue, and deep conversations with my professors and classmates. I’ve had some incredible professors and mentors who have always been willing to give me advice and talk with me about everything from classes to current events.”
What’s next? “I’ll be attending Antonin Scalia Law School this fall, with the goal of earning my JD and becoming a music attorney.”
Jessika Linnemeyer ’22
- Major: Biology
- Hometown: Castle Rock, Colorado
As a student-athlete majoring in biology with a minor in global health, Jessika Linnemeyer has a passion for the intersection of physical health and well-being. The star volleyball player was recently one of only 42 scholars in the nation to earn a coveted NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship, which she plans to use toward a doctorate in physical therapy. Linnemeyer believes that her Rollins education has provided her with the leadership skills necessary to reach patient populations that are underserved or lack access to physical therapy, empowering her to make a lasting impact on the mobility, independence, and lives of her future patients.
My mentor and how they make a difference “My mentors at Rollins were my two volleyball coaches, Mika Robinson and Sarah Steffan, as well as biology professor Jay Pieczynski, chemistry professor James Patrone, and director of the global health program Marisa Fuse. Both my coaches and professors pushed me to become the best version of myself and showed me what it means to be passionate about your field. They were my biggest fans but also my biggest challengers. They cared about me as a person and would support me when things were hard, which has helped me realize what I’m capable of and made me the person I am today.”
An experience I’ll never forget “The highlight of my Rollins experience was the balance of academic rigor, athletics, and community involvement. I will never forget taking the honors class Writing Books for and with Children, where I was partnered with a preschooler at the Hume House Child Development Center to co-author and illustrate a children’s book. It was an incredible and unique experience that I will never forget. By encouraging me to take classes outside biology, the Rollins curriculum has made me a well-rounded person with a more comprehensive outlook on life.”
What I’m going to miss the most “The thing I will miss most about Rollins is the people. My professors and coaches have not only challenged me to gain a comprehensive understanding of biology over the past four years, but they have also taken the time to get to know me. Rollins has truly become a second home for me as I have become involved in this community of supportive, motivated, and inspiring people. And though I will greatly miss everyone here, I hope to maintain these relationships throughout my life.”
What’s next? “In June, I’ll begin the doctoral program in physical therapy at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, my top choice for graduate school.”
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