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Spelman College Names Co-Valedictorians for Class of 2017 Share a Spelman College Press Release

Spelman College

For Immediate Release

Media Contact:
Audrey Arthur
(404) 270-5892 (office)
Twitter: @SpelmanMedia

Commencement2017_CoValedictorians2ATLANTA (May 17, 2017) – Muhire Kwizera, C’2017, a mathematics major, and K’yal Bannister, C’2017, a chemistry and dual degree engineering major, have been named co-valedictorians for the Spelman College class of 2017.  The seniors, each with a 4.0 G.P.A, will lead their class, comprised of 490 graduates, during the College’s 130th Commencement on Sunday, May 21, 2017, at 3 p.m. at the Georgia International Convention Center in Atlanta.

Following graduation, Bannister, a native of Bushnell, Florida, will go on to earn a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering at the California Institute of Technology as part of Spelman’s dual degree engineering program before pursuing her Ph.D. in chemical engineering.  

“My time at Spelman provided me the opportunity to build many technical and soft skills,” said Bannister. “As an aspiring researcher, I have had the opportunity to conduct research that has prepared me for graduate school and a career in the academic or industrial sector.  The coursework at Spelman has ignited my passion for research, offering a unique experience for a Black woman and my desire to impart positive social change.”

A member of The Phi Beta Kappa Society, Bannister has held internships at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and ExxonMobil. Also, she was a learning apprentice with the Department of Chemistry, participated in the Spelman Mentored and Research Trained Scholars Program, and won first place in the chemistry category in 2015 and 2016 as a participant in Spelman College Research Day. When she completes her Ph.D., Bannister intends to work at the intersection of biofuels research and energy policy.

Lisa Hibbard“K'yal is one of the most outstanding students I have personally encountered in my 30 plus years at the College,” said Lisa Hibbard, Ph.D., Spelman associate professor of chemistry. “She is a singularly focused and mature young scientist who continually strives to perform at the highest level. Even when she was in her first year at the college, I could tell that she was ready for the challenge that we at Spelman offered. She demonstrated strong interest in not just comprehending the material but going beyond what was presented.  

“K’yal always asks probing questions, and it is clear her mind works like an engineer's, always looking for all possible solutions to a given problem. And while K'yal is a top student, she doesn't hesitate to share her knowledge and assist her peer group.”

Originally from Kigali, Rwanda, Muhire Kwizera will attend Columbia University to pursue a Ph.D. in biostatistics. “Before enrolling at Spelman, I knew of only one career path for a mathematician and that was becoming a math teacher,” said Kwizera. “I appreciate how Spelman introduced me to other career paths as a mathematics major and am grateful for professors like Dr. Viveka Brown, who introduced me to research during my first year, and along with others, helped me refine my research interests through my classwork.”

Kwizera, a member of The Phi Beta Kappa Society and Pi Mu Epsilon mathematics honor society, immersed herself in the numerous internship and undergraduate research opportunities available including research projects at Emory University School of Medicine and Massachusetts Institute of Technology in computational neuroscience. Both experiences were instrumental in defining her interest in data analysis and biostatistics.

“Upon completion of my doctoral program, I would like to create a research group that will develop statistical techniques and apply them to the analysis of public health data from developing countries,” said Kwizera. Her professional goals involve focusing her research experience towards an applied mathematics career that ensures sustainable healthcare for everyone, and particularly for the economically, socially and environmentally disadvantaged.  

Yewande Olubummo“Muhire is one of the most mathematically talented students I have taught at Spelman,” said Yewande Olubummo, Ph.D., associate professor of mathematics. “She has a real love of mathematics and the ability to understand and apply abstract mathematical concepts at a deep and precise level. Muhire has impressed me not only with her academic ability, but also with her strong work ethic, positive attitude and excellent character. I have no doubt that she will do great things in the future, and will continue to make Spelman proud.”

Valerie Jarrett, the longest-serving senior adviser to President Barack Obama, will deliver the Commencement address. Jarrett has had a consequential impact across the American political, civic and business landscape. Pioneering physicist and mathematician Katherine G. Johnson will receive an honorary degree. Johnson is a trailblazer in American space history and was the subject of the acclaimed movie, “Hidden Figures.”

Baccalaureate service will be held on Saturday, May 20, at 9 a.m., on the Spelman Oval. Andrea C. White, Ph.D., will serve as the speaker. Dr. White, associate professor of theology and culture at Union Theological Seminary in New York, is executive director of the Society for the Study of Black Religion and a founding member of The Carter Center’s Scholars in Action, which addresses gender-based violence against women and girls. 

To learn more about Spelman’s 130th Commencement, click here.

Commencement and Baccalaureate will be streamed live at

Follow Spelman College Commencement weekend on social media at #SpelmanGrad17.

About Spelman College
Founded in 1881, Spelman College is a highly selective, liberal arts college widely recognized as the global leader in the education of women of African descent.  Located in Atlanta, Georgia, the College’s picturesque campus is home to 2,100 students. Outstanding alumnae include Children’s Defense Fund Founder Marian Wright Edelman, former Sam’s Club CEO Rosalind Brewer, Broadway producer Alia Jones, former Acting Surgeon General and Spelman’s first alumna President Audrey Forbes Manley, Harvard University Professor Evelynn Hammonds, author Pearl Cleage and actress LaTanya Richardson Jackson. For more information, visit


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