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Faith Kirkland and Bongeka Zuma Rise to Top of the Class of 2016

May 2016

When Spelman College confers degrees upon the nearly 500 graduates of the class of 2016 at its 129th Commencement  on Sunday, May 15, at the Georgia International Convention Center, biology majors Faith Kirkland and Bongeka Zuma will sit at the head of the class as the valedictorian and salutatorian.

Spelman College Valedictorian Faith Kirkland

Faith Kirkland Named Spelman College's 2016 ValedictorianFaith Kirkland, Spelman College's 2016 valedictorian, is a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She chose to attend Spelman College for its sisterhood, academic excellence and support for African-American women. She is grateful for the lifelong friends and mentors who created an uplifting, empowering environment.

Kirkland is a biology major and serves as the Beta Beta Beta Biology Honor Society president. During her first year at Spelman, she discovered her passion for research and conducted cardiovascular and musculoskeletal research. She also conducted research abroad in Cordoba, Spain on the sarcopenia of aging. She is a member of the Honors Program, Alpha Lambda Delta, Health Careers Opportunity Pipeline Preparation Program and Phi Beta Kappa as well as being a Dean’s Scholar.

Kirkland is also a certified personal trainer and works in the Spelman Wellness Center challenging students, faculty and staff to reach their fitness and health goals. She attributes her success to a strong faith in Jesus Christ and a loving family. Following graduation, she will attend Emory University to obtain her Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree (DPT).

Spelman College Salutatorian Bongeka Zuma

Bongeka ZumaBongeka Zuma, Spelman College's 2016 salutatorian, hails from Bulwer, a small village in South Africa. After attending elementary school in a rural community with minimal educational resources, she was selected from thousands of promising girls to attend the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls.

During her time at the Academy, she overcame numerous obstacles, including her initially poor command of the English language, to become the valedictorian of the first graduating class. After her transformative high school experience, she yearned for an undergraduate institution that would continue to foster female empowerment and sisterhood. Zuma found this and more at Spelman. During her college career, she has placed a high priority on serving others. She was able to explore her passion for health equity by volunteering in Haiti and participated in global immersion programs in Portugal as well as in Trinidad and Tobago.

Additionally, she avidly pursued her interests in biological research for the past three years, both at Spelman and other institutions. Her efforts were first recognized upon her selection to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) research associates program, a national non-profit medical research program. Last summer, she served as a biomedical research assistant at MIT in Massachusetts.

At Spelman, her scholarly commitments have been recognized through inductions into numerous honor societies, including Alpha Lambda Delta, the Golden Key Honor Society, Beta Beta Beta Biology Honor Society, and Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society, the nation's most prestigious undergraduate honor society.

She will be joining the University of Oxford in the fall to complete a Master's Degree in medical anthropology. Upon completing this degree, she plans to combine her interests in healthcare and female empowerment by pursuing a Doctor of Medicine Degree (MD) and serving marginalized communities as an OB/GYN.

When Zuma first arrived at Spelman, she offered the following quote in an Inside Spelman article:

“I fell in love with the campus and how beautiful it is,” said Zuma, who first visited campus two years ago while a student at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls. “I knew I wanted to be like those ladies I saw. They were so graceful and confident. They were the kind of woman that I hope I can be at the end of these four years.” Now that she’s a Spelman student, Zuma pledges to do her best to make Spelman proud. “I hope to become that woman of excellence that Spelman promised to make me, and that I will meet other women of excellence that Spelman has produced and attracts from all over the world,” she said.

Zuma and Kirkland have both definitely done their best to make Spelman proud.

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