Class of 2022 valedictorian Kelly Mwaamba standing on a marble staircase

Kelly Mwaamba ’22

Major: Government and law, international affairs; Chinese minor

Co-curriculars: Speech and Debate, Dance Team, EXCEL Scholar, Gov Lab, LiveWell Ambassador, Writing Associate, Technology Clinic

Post-graduation plans: Pursuing a J.D. degree at Georgetown Law beginning fall 2022; aspires to be a practicing attorney, with a potential interest in criminal litigation

Describe your senior year in three words.

Exciting. My senior year was so exciting because, while it did feel like the beginning of the end, I was excited to see what life had in store for me after graduation. It is exciting to know that you will be able to put all of your knowledge and experiences to good use as you look toward the pursuit of a new future.

Reestablishing. This year also was about returning to in-person classes, reestablishing traditional test-taking procedures, reestablishing and returning to the relationships we had to step back from during the pandemic, and returning to an in-person graduation and celebration of our collective resilience over the last four years.

Fun. I spent the first three years of my Lafayette career grappling with the ins and outs of different theories, scholarly texts, and rigorous arguments. While I continued to employ a lot of those skills, this year felt different because I was more in control. Writing my thesis, for example, was fun because it allowed me to explore my favorite ideas and questions, thus allowing me to take ownership of the direction of my learning.

What does being valedictorian mean to you?

When I first came to the U.S. from England, I didn’t know what a valedictorian was. Graduating as one of nine co-valedictorians is a testament to the time and effort I have dedicated to my areas of study. To me, it is a reminder that I have made the most of every opportunity. This is important because that’s why I came to the U.S. in the first place.

What’s your favorite Lafayette memory?

Competing in the final round of prose at the National Forensics Association Championship in Illinois my senior year. It was an honor to be ranked in the national top five, but it was an even bigger honor to experience it all with my team. Even though we are a smaller group, we bring the Lafayette spirit wherever we go.

What’s the most impactful class you took?

One of the most impactful classes I took was Prof. Helena Silverstein’s Equality in the U.S.: Law and Politics. Even though Prof. Silverstein emphasized that this course was not designed to emulate a law school class, it was the class that confirmed my desire to go to law school. Reading through the case texts gave me an idea of what it feels like to look at the application of the law in detail.

Who was the most influential person during your time at the College?

This question is virtually impossible because there are so many people who truly made my Lafayette experience. Prof. Hannah Stewart-Gambino, whether she knows this or not, was undoubtedly one of the most helpful support systems I had during the pandemic. I was unable to return home to my family during quarantine and was beginning to think about graduate school. She really helped coach and support me by simply being there when I needed her, and that means a lot.

What will you miss most about Laf?

The people, 100 percent. I’m going to miss seeing familiar faces in the library, running into friends in the dining halls, and greeting faculty in the hallways.

Describe your biggest challenge and how you overcame it.

It was difficult to find my own path and stick to it when I knew that it could, at times, be isolating. I had to make a lot of sacrifices to be able to achieve what was important to me. I missed a lot of opportunities to hang out with friends and enjoy staple college experiences in the pursuit of academic, athletic, and competitive success. While I was ultimately able to strike a good balance, it was hard at times to come to terms with the fact that choosing my own path meant leaving some things behind. I overcame this by reminding myself why I was here and staying focused on what I wanted to achieve.

What do you wish for your fellow graduating classmates?

I hope that we are all able to keep in touch and help support one another in the future, just as we have throughout our time at Lafayette.

What advice would you give to your first-year self?

Honestly, relax. It’s hard to get adjusted to a new country, culture, school, and way of studying, but at the end of the day, everything will work out.

What words of wisdom would you like to share with upcoming seniors?

Make the most of your relationships here at Lafayette. Take the time to sit down and talk with faculty, make the most of living with your friends, and enjoy your last few classes.

How has Lafayette changed you?

Lafayette has changed me in the sense that I have more confidence in myself. Lafayette has pushed me to take leaps of faith that, whilst daunting, have undeniably shaped the person I am today.

How do you hope to change the world?

I want to be an attorney because I want to help create agency for those who don’t have the means to do so themselves. Law can take you in a lot of different directions, ranging from private practice to high-profile government litigation. Ultimately, I hope to find a career path that allows me to make a difference in individual lives and people.

The most important thing you learned about yourself at Lafayette is:

Learning is a collaborative process. Prof. Cory Fischer-Hoffman told me this many times, but I didn’t fully realize it until this year: The more you find opportunities to work together, the more you will all take away from the experience.

Commencement Highlights

Lafayette College's 187th Commencement ceremony Saturday, May 21

Video, photo galleries, recording of the full ceremony available

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Categorized in: Academic News, Class of 2022, Commencement 2022, Government and Law, International Affairs, News and Features, Student Profiles, Students