Rising to the Top

May 09, 2023

By Laura J. Cole ’04 ’08MLS

From top left: Connor Xu ’23, Ashley Troutman ’23, Capri Gutierrez ’23, Emily Froehlich ’23, Raj Singh ’23, Sarah Skala ’23, and Georgina Groth ’23.
From top left: Connor Xu ’23, Ashley Troutman ’23, Capri Gutierrez ’23, Emily Froehlich ’23, Raj Singh ’23, Sarah Skala ’23, and Georgina Groth ’23.

This year’s seven valedictorians share highlights from their time at Rollins and a glimpse of what’s next in their meaningful lives and productive careers.

The second semester of their first year of college, the world shut down. But that challenging start didn’t stop the Class of 2023 from finishing strong, and these seven standout students are leading the way. Emily Froehlich ’23, Georgina Groth ’23, Capri Gutierrez ’23, Raj Singh ’23, Sarah Skala ’23, Ashley Troutman ’23, and Connor Xu ’23 seized the opportunities at Rollins to pursue their unique pathways to purpose.

This year’s valedictorians represent nearly the full kaleidoscope of liberal arts experiences, with majors ranging from business and education to classical studies, international relations, and physics. They participated in internships, study abroad programs, field studies, community engagement projects, campus leadership positions, Greek life, and student-faculty research. And among them, they include four student-athletes, a published author, two Phi Beta Kappa inductees, two Fulbright recipients, two Alfond Scholars, and an All-American. They hail from Florida, Germany, India, and Australia and after graduation will land on five continents to pursue grad school, careers, and their passions.

With the final countdown to Rollins' 133rd commencement in full swing, we caught up with this year’s seven valedictorians to talk about how their college experiences have defined them, what they’ll miss most about Rollins, and what excites them most about the future.

Emily Froehlich
Photo by Scott Cook.

Emily Froehlich ’23

  • Major: Business management
  • Hometown: Kissimmee, Florida

When Emily Froehlich started at Rollins, she, like so many students, wasn’t sure what she wanted to do after graduation. She made the most of what she saw as endless possibilities, minoring in German, serving as a peer mentor, pledging the Alpha Omicron Pi sorority, studying abroad in France, being a Rollins social media ambassador, and joining the pickleball club. She took courses in everything from computer science and archaeology to global fashion and business, where she discovered her true passion. She says she’s thankful for Rollins’ liberal arts approach, which allowed her to explore a variety of subjects, gain diverse perspectives, and make informed decisions about her future.

My mentor and how they make a difference “First off, I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without the guidance and support of my mother, Jeannie McWhorter ’95. Dr. [Timothy] Pett in the business department has also played a crucial role in my college experience, particularly in helping me navigate my academic path. He recommended that I participate in his field study program in Pau, France, where I not only earned eight credits toward my business major, but also had the incredible opportunity to immerse myself in French culture and see how business works in another country.”

Emily Froehlich

An experience I’ll never forget “In the community engagement course, Exceptional People, Remarkable Technology, which was taught by [education professor] Scott Hewit, I learned about the incredible assistive technology that’s available to help people with disabilities. Along with classroom learning, I had the privilege of volunteering at the Academy of Ability, where I assisted students with disabilities with various activities such as eating, crafting, and even participating in their Halloween. This experience had a profound impact on me, and it has truly changed me for the better.”

What I’m going to miss the most “The incredible professors and friends who have made a lasting impact on my college experience. Their unwavering support and kindness have helped me grow as a person and a scholar. I will miss the study sessions at Starbucks and boba-tea runs with my friends, as we laughed, learned, and supported each other. Their friendship and camaraderie have truly made my time at Rollins unforgettable.”

What’s next? “I’ll be moving to South Korea, where my husband is stationed, at the beginning of the summer and staying for two years. Living and traveling abroad has always been a dream of mine, and I’m beyond excited to fully immerse myself in the culture—and have already started learning a bit of Korean. I hope to pursue a career as a project manager with the Department of Defense.”

Georgina Groth
Photo by Scott Cook.

Georgina Groth ’23

  • Major: Business management
  • Hometown: Hamburg, Germany

Georgina Groth grew up in a family that spent a lot of time talking about business. Her dad owns his own company, and both parents shared frequently what they were working on, so a major in business was a no-brainer for Groth, who has certainly taken a results-oriented approach to her time at Rollins. In addition to being named this year’s commencement speaker, Groth was named an All-American tennis player, served as team captain, and advanced to the No. 1 player on the team. She was also a member of the Kappa Delta sorority and the Beta Gamma Sigma honors society, picked up a minor in data analytics, and completed two internships.

My internships and how they made a difference “I did internships in equity and consulting because both business areas were of great interest to me and taught me how to work in a professional environment. I enjoyed learning firsthand how companies really work and applying what I learned at Rollins, but my biggest realization was that I can’t imagine doing something that doesn’t involve sports, which has always been a major part of my life.”

An experience I’ll never forget “Winning the All-American title with my doubles partner Alexandra Borg ’20 ’22MBA was the highlight, but the journey and winning all these matches together and performing so well was definitely the best part about it. We ended up finishing No. 4 in the nation. We were really close and worked so well together on the court. She’s a great person and our playing styles fit well together, so it was just so much fun to play with her.”

What I’m going to miss the most “Winter Park, the sense of community and togetherness on campus, feeling like I know everyone, being able to walk to any of our sporting facilities and watch so many different sporting events (sometimes in one day), and especially being able to walk to my friends’ apartments and ask them in person to hang out.”

What’s next? “I will return to Germany, where I have applied to the MBA program at LMU [Ludwig Maximilian University] in Munich. Ultimately, I plan to pursue a position in the sports industry.”

Capri Gutierrez
Photo by Scott Cook.

Capri Gutierrez ’23

  • Major: International relations
  • Hometown: Winter Springs, Florida

Capri Gutierrez has always known she wanted to make a difference in the world. She says every year at Rollins helped narrow the path to how. As an international relations major and Spanish and political science double minor, the Alfond Scholar and honors student co-authored a book with political science professor Dan Chong, helped launch the THRIVE peer educator program, spent a semester in Uganda through the School for International Training, participated in the Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) Junior Summer Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, and was recently inducted into the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa academic honors society. After graduation, she’ll continue doing research—as a Fulbright Student in Uganda—and plans to continue along her path to change the world by pursuing a graduate degree in public policy or global development.

My mentor and how they make a difference “[Political science professor] Dan Chong has helped me do everything from reading countless drafts and defining my career goals to making big and small decisions and being my biggest supporter. He saw me for the person I wanted to be, which pushed me to become that person. Even when I go to Uganda for the Fulbright, he has offered to help me with my research remotely. I imagine we will work together again in the future, and I can’t thank him enough for all he’s done to support my Rollins journey.”

Caprti Gutierrez studying abroad in Uganda, getting inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, and visiting Capitol Hill.

An experience I’ll never forget “Living with my best friends this year. We had an apartment in Lakeside Neighborhood and had so much fun studying together, getting groceries from the C-store to cook, and watching movies in our living room. It was so special to live so close to Park Avenue and the heart of Orlando. We went on so many weekend adventures like going to the beach, trying new foods, and exploring new places.”

What I’m going to miss the most “I will miss my friends, peers, professors, and advisors the most. The people at Rollins have truly made my college experience.”

What’s next? “Moving to Uganda to continue my research on former child soldiers with the Justice and Reconciliation Project as a Fulbright Student.”

Raj Singh

Raj Singh ’23

  • Major: Physics
  • Hometown: Isharwal of District Jalandhar, Punjab, India

In high school, Ray Singh immigrated to Florida with his family and had to navigate a new school in a new country while his parents worked to find new careers. He admits their financial situation made the experience stressful. Being named an Alfond Scholar—which provides a full scholarship for students based on merit—helped solidify his choice to attend Rollins, where he majored in physics, joined the Society for Physics Students and the physics honor society Sigma Pi Sigma, and conducted research alongside physics professor Ashley Cannaday using light scattering to estimate the sizes of small particles. He says the latter project helped him realize he prefers hands-on problem solving to working in a lab and contributed to his decision to pursue a career as an engineer.

My mentor and how they make a difference “Dr. Ashley Cannaday has been my mentor, student advisor, research advisor, many times my therapist, and my life coach. She guided me through some tough times, and I have learned a lot from her. She really helped me find the balance between work and everything else.”

Raj Singh studies in the physics lab with two fellow students.

An experience I’ll never forget “Spending time with my peers and professors in the physics department. I don’t think I could have done it without the jokes and laughter we shared during lectures and homework sessions.”

What I’m going to miss the most “Many things but mainly the people, including my physics professors Dr. Cannaday, Dr. Thomas Moore, Dr. Whitney Coyle, Dr. Christopher Fuse, Dr. Samantha Fonseca dos Santos, and Dr. Anne Murdaugh.”

What’s next? “After I graduate, I’d like to work in the field before pursuing a master’s degree in electrical engineering.”

Sarah Skala
Photo by Scott Cook.

Sarah Skala ’23

  • Major: Elementary education
  • Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida

Sarah Skala chose Rollins knowing three things: She wanted a smaller school that was close to home. She wanted to study elementary education. And she wanted to play soccer. She has leveraged all three during her time at Rollins while discovering new opportunities, including exploring academic disciplines she never would’ve thought to pursue and combining her passion for the German language with an experience in the education field after graduation as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. After she returns from Germany, Skala plans to become a school counselor. “I have a love for helping others that extends beyond the classroom,” she says. “It is my goal to help others find ways to be successful and discover their passions the same way I have found mine.”

My mentor and how they make a difference “It’s so hard to choose just one. Dr. G [biology professor Sabrice Guerrier], one of my rFLA [Rollins Foundations in the Liberal Arts] professors, has shown me what it truly means to care about your students and their successes, and he helped grow my interest in the sciences. [Education professor] Jie Yu told me about the opportunity to teach English abroad as part of the Fulbright program. And of course, my academic advisor, [education professor] James McLaughlin, has always been there for me whether it be helping me solve a problem or just catching up on various sports.”

Sarah Skala playing soccer.

An experience I’ll never forget “Going to Canada my freshman year with the women’s soccer team for pre-season. We grew so close over the trip and were even able to see Niagara Falls. Another was an internship I had through the education department working with a fifth-grade class. I learned so much valuable information from the classroom teacher and loved all the children I was able to positively impact.”

What I’m going to miss the most “I will surely miss the people the most when it comes to Rollins. From my teammates and friends to my classmates and professors, the interactions with others are what I cherish the most and will never forget.”

What’s next? “Teaching English in Germany as part of the Fulbright program. I’ve studied the German language for six years, and it has always been one of my favorite courses. I have developed such an admiration for the language and culture that I wanted to go and experience it firsthand.”

Ashley Troutman
Photo by Scott Cook.

Ashley Troutman ’23

  • Major: Anthropology
  • Hometown: Panama City, Florida

Rollins offered softball player Ashley Troutman the opportunity to pursue the sport she loved while earning a degree from the South’s top university. On the field, she’s been able to smash records, currently leading the country in batting average, hits, and stolen bases—and being named to the National Fastpitch Coaches Association’s watchlist for Player and Pitcher of the Year Award. And in the classroom, she was a member of the Lambda Alpha National Anthropology Honor Society and credits her major with teaching her about humanity from a holistic point of view while expanding her possibilities for the future.

My mentor and how they make a difference “The coaching staff and my athletic trainer have had the most impact on both my athletic career at Rollins and my development as a person. Katie Rose, my athletic trainer, helped remind me that while I was here to play a sport, the sport does not define who I am or who I will be. Dedicating your entire life to a game can lead you into a trap of equating your worth to your statistics, but K-Rose was there to remind us all that we are way more than just softball players.”

Ashley Troutman up to bat for the Rollins softball team.

An experience I’ll never forget “My entire softball experience. From breaking records and camping out on the lawn as a team for Fox Day to lifting weights at 6 a.m. and treading water while wearing sweatshirts for boot camp, the experiences I’ve had with the girls on this team are ones I wouldn’t trade for anything.”

What I’m going to miss the most “First off, I’ll miss being within 10 feet of one of my teammates at all times. It will be strange not having at least one of them around to study with, run an errand, watch a movie, or eat lunch. I’ll also miss all the interesting class discussions we had in my anthropology major, which touched on so many topics—religion, politics, gender, language, communication, psychology, history. Every class brought an opportunity to learn from different points of view that I will forever carry with me in my life and career.”

What’s next? “I’m looking forward to doing some traveling and getting involved in the art community in my hometown before possibly pursuing a career in UX research.”

Connor Xu
Photo by Scott Cook.

Connor Xu ’23

  • Majors: Economics and classical studies
  • Hometown: Melbourne, Australia

Connor Xu has made the most of his Rollins education, pursuing a double major in economics and classical studies, participating in internships, serving as an RA, joining the swimming team, and becoming a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He credits his coursework and his campus involvement with helping him gain the skills necessary to lead a productive career and meaningful life. His economics courses taught him to examine pressing societal issues and research challenges, such as income inequality, pollution, and corruption. His classical studies courses helped him gain historical insights and the skills to think critically, evaluate evidence, and communicate clearly. And being a campus leader helped him learn how to foster meaningful relationships with people from diverse backgrounds and cultures.

My mentor and how they made a difference “As my RCC [Rollins College Conference] professor, Tres Loch was one of the first people I met on campus, and he helped me acclimate. Over the past four years, he has been a constant source of encouragement, especially when I had to spend a year studying virtually and asynchronously in Australia. As I’ve approached graduation, he has helped me explore potential careers and supported me in pursuing new opportunities. My swim coaches, Julianne Lehner and Walker Thaning, have also been important figures in my college career. They pushed me to improve, and I appreciate the work they have put into helping me and the team.”

Connor Xu competing in a swim meet.

An experience I’ll never forget “Competing with the swim team at our conference championship. Even more so, however, I enjoyed the day-to-day grind of training hard with teammates, working with our coaches, and striving toward a goal. I also loved working with the Office of International Programs. At first, it was to travel to Greece for a field study, which was a transformative experience that allowed me to see and experience firsthand the history that I learned about in The History of Ancient Athens. The following summer, I worked with them as an intern, and it was rewarding to help my peers gain international experiences.”

What I’m going to miss the most “Being able to walk around the beautiful campus and Winter Park and being part of our close-knit community. I hope to maintain these relationships as we all continue on our different journeys.”

What’s next? “I will be returning home to Australia and working full-time at Nous Group, an international management consulting firm.”

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