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Class of 2022 Valedictorian: McKenzie Clarke

May 2022

Spelman Valedictorian McKenzie Clarke McKenzie Clarke, a senior English major from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, is a member of the Ethel Waddell Githi Honors Program, Alpha Lambda Delta Honors Society, Sigma Tau Delta English Honor Society, and a newly inducted member into Phi Beta Kappa. A UNCF-Mellon Mays fellow, Clarke will enter Rutgers University in the fall of 2022 to pursue a Ph.D. in English.   

Clarke is pleased with “the mental and emotional labor” she demonstrated during her four years at Spelman and grateful for the Spelman culture of excellence that produces a graduating class of five valedictorians. She is honored to be one of those valedictorians and grateful for professors who inspired her to choose excellence in all her courses.   

For Clarke, the most impactful experience she had during her four years at Spelman was changing her major from psychology to English during her first year at the College. She chose psychology because . . . 
blue-quote-leftI was interested in the way people think.” However, “during my freshman year, Dr. Michelle Hite, director of the Honors Program, encouraged me to consider literature as a way of accessing empathy and thoughtful understandings of human feeling, something I had never thought about or known. Following her advice (which speaks to the excellent mentorship I have received at Spelman that changed my life), Iblue-quote-right chose literature as my major. That decision changed my life as an undergraduate student and will direct my studies in graduate school.  

When asked, “Who is your favorite writer?” Clarke responds immediately, “Toni Morrison.” “Her mother brought Clarke to Morrison when Clarke was a young girl by referencing works Morrison had written “with such awe” that I was impressed." I think my mother wields language beautifully, so settling into Morrison's writing was a part of learning what, in language, my mother found appealing, lovely, worthy of reverence, she whose everyday words I already liked.   

Clarke wants “to become a professor because I never want to stop reading or learning. I love the idea of a career that might allow me to read and write and work out my thoughts from that reading and writing in an intellectual community,” she said. 

Clarke “absolutely” loves her major and “all the professors in whose classes I have enrolled.” They guided her to “studying different works by poets, playwrights, novelists, and essayists written during different periods in history.” She is extremely excited about entering Rutgers University in the fall to begin “the Ph.D. program in English,” and she is confident that what she learned as a literature major at Spelman College, taught by caring professors, prepared her “to sit at the head of the class” during her studies at Rutgers University. 

When asked what advice she would give new students entering Spelman in the fall, particularly advice that would give them the sense of success and joy she experienced during her years at Spelman, Clarke answered: 

“Take your time. Breathe. Although a moment can feel so sharply intense, it will dissipate. So, enjoy and keep stepping forward in thoughtfulness, and it will all be okay. Treat yourself sometimes to things you enjoy. Keep stepping forward in thoughtfulness, and it will be okay. “  

As she prepares to graduate from Spelman College as one of the valedictorians of the graduating class, Clarke wants to express gratitude to professors, administrators, fellow students, and all members of the Spelman family for being a large warm swath of mentors and friends who have “encouraged me, loved me, and challenged me, ever gently caressing and soothing my sense of self. Because of you, I feel more confident as a person, thinker, and writer than I did when I arrived. I feel effusive, grateful, and proud!”  

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