Lisa Kochanowski
Assistant Editor/Reporter
May 5, 2024 // Diocese

Holy Cross Valedictorian’s Journey Guided by Faith

Lisa Kochanowski
Assistant Editor/Reporter

Carmen Stephanie Nuñez

Carmen Stephanie Nuñez of South Bend has put her Catholic faith and family at the forefront of her life choices. Graduating from St. Adalbert Catholic Grade School and Saint Joseph High School, the Holy Cross College senior has been named the valedictorian for the class of 2024.

“To be valedictorian is a great honor for my parents, for those who are also first-generation Latinos, and it is also an opportunity for me to give glory to God for everything He has given me,” Nuñez told Today’s Catholic. “School is not easy, but so are many things in life. As a freshman, I never would have imagined myself having the opportunity and willingness to speak in front of so many people.”

Recipient of the Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades Scholarship at Holy Cross, she comes from a family of six. Her older sister, Merari, graduated from Saint Mary’s College in 2022 and will be graduating from the Echo Program at the University of Notre Dame this year. Her sister Aurora is a freshman at Holy Cross College, and her brother, Jesus, is in sixth grade at Holy Family School in South Bend.

“As Mexican immigrants, my parents did not have an opportunity to pursue a college education, but it is a value that they’ve instilled in us,” Nuñez said. The family is active in the Catholic faith, as her parents are members of St. Adalbert and St. Casimir parishes. “Growing up, the church community was like a second family,” she said.

Nuñez is majoring in visual arts with a concentration in the studio art track. She has a minor in elementary education.

“My decision to study art was made in my junior year of high school when I made the decision to pursue art instead of other AP classes I was recommended to take,” Nuñez said. “For me, art was what I enjoyed the most and allowed me to put all my thoughts, values, faith, and culture together into a cohesive whole. I was not super outgoing or social in high school, and many times I doubted if Saint Joe was a fit for me coming from an under-represented background, but I was able to gain confidence in my voice through my work and under the instruction of the art department at Saint Joe. Art was also a way to put everything I was learning in all aspects of my life together in a multi-disciplinary approach,” Nuñez said.

During her freshman year of college, she took 20 credit hours per semester.

“Looking back at it now, I don’t know how I survived,” she said. “My plan was to explore all my interests and knock out many of the core or prerequisite courses. The field of elementary education was one of the interests I investigated and even considered double majoring in education and art, which I later found out was not possible with the intensity of the education program. I wanted to continue pursuing education as a minor because I imagined myself teaching in the future, and having that background can only be beneficial,” Nuñez said.

Throughout her personal and scholastic journey, Nuñez said she has been influenced by many people.

“My parents will always be my biggest influence in my academic journey. They supported me in school and funded my education through grade and high school. My older sister was also a great influence for me. She was always a step ahead preparing me for school and helping me transition into high school and college,” Nuñez said. “I am also grateful for my teachers at St. Adalbert and Saint Joe who pushed me to grow and made learning enjoyable, and I am also thankful for my friends and classmates who made going to school engaging.”

In spite of the emphasis she placed on her academics at Holy Cross, Nuñez keeps active on campus and in the local community.

“I am a Visual Arts Club Board Member, a member of the First-Gen Club, and a member of the Saints for Life Club,” she said. “Additionally, I work various jobs around campus, including in the President’s Office as a student associate, in the dining hall as a student worker, and at the Pfeil Center gym at the front desk,” Nuñez said. She also painted a mural in the St. Adalbert Parish office basement and was part of a two-person exhibition at South Bend Brew Werks in the month of February.

She has had many memorable moments but pointed to one in particular as having a profound effect on her life.

“Going on pilgrimage to Mount Sinai in Egypt was one of the most impactful experiences,” She said. “I saw an abundance of stars in the sky and was able to trust in God’s plan for my life like Abraham in the Bible did. It was such a beautiful, surreal experience. Since then, I have begun to see God’s presence in my life.”

Her plans for the future are not set, but she hopes to get accepted into a Master of Fine Arts program and has applied to University of Notre Dame and Claremont Graduate University.

“I was also encouraged to apply last-minute to the ACE Teaching Fellows program at ND, and I would be honored to follow that path if it is God’s will for me. I have had many teachers who have graduated from the ACE program who have been an influential part of my education,” Nuñez said. “I am open to God’s will for me in the steps to come.”

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