First Noelle!

June 10, 2009

"Noelle has really been an inspiration to me in the classroom. Her questions and comments always challenged me to think harder than I knew I could. I am not sure what field of philosophy she is going into, but I have the utmost confidence that she will solve whatever problems that field might be having. Too bad for the rest of the people who thought they would succeed in that field," said Santa Clara University Valedictorian Brandon Ashby '09.

"Not only is Noelle incredibly smart and talented, but also she is also truly humble. She does not seek attention at all, yet she is gracious in accepting praise," said Krystal Wu `09, winner of the Peter-Hans Kolvenbach S.J. Award.

"Our friendship has developed around in-depth philosophical conversation, attempting to probe at the depths of the limits of our own knowledge and to discern some sort of coherent world view. Noelle, being an avid philosophy major, is quite good at having those conversations. She's an excellent listener, very knowledgeable and quite fun to spend time with," said Nick Obradovich '09, winner of the Nobili Medal.

"Something I really appreciate about Noelle that is seriously a rarity is her openness and desire to work together with others to understand the world better. Particularly when it comes to philosophical discussions, I am always struck by how intently she listens and responds in such a way that she's not trying to defend her ego but rather to honestly arrive at truth. She really takes others opinions into consideration, and in turn encourages me to be a more receptive person," said Annie Rovzar '09 - winner of the Richard J. Riordan Award.

"Noelle's passion and enthusiasm for social justice and ability to communicate her vision for a better world is very powerful. I know she will be a leader in changing our world for the better and I am very proud of all that she has already achieved," said Rick Alexander '09 - winner of the Richard J. Riordan Award and the CSL Service and Leadership Award.

For those Bronco fans who have met Noelle Lopez, Santa's Clara's first-ever female Rhodes Scholar, 2009 St. Clare Medal honoree, Hackworth fellow and cross country/track captain, they should consider themselves lucky. But even Noelle admits she is more the norm at Santa Clara than the exception.

"The norm? Bronco student-athletes Anne Murphy-Hagen, Sara Majors, Kazimir Brown, Chris Mosier, Stephen Hobbs - there are so many who are all very involved in the community and excellent students - and they are more the norm at Santa Clara than the exception," said Lopez. "It doesn't surprise me I came to school like Santa Clara. I went to a high school where it was kind of like that so the idea having a more balanced education isn't foreign to me. And the idea of trying to have that seek kind of balance is something that has been valued at the schools where I have attended. My time at Santa Clara has been - the education has been holistic - because it's included opportunities to grow as an athlete. I have also had the chance to build good relationships with people."

Recently Lopez was called to Santa Clara President Engh's office. She really had no idea why. No clue. But when she saw her friend Nick walk out before her, she started putting the pieces together. Father Engh wanted to personally congratulate each of the senior award winners and Lopez had been awarded the St. Clare Medal. The St. Clare medal is presented to the female graduate judged outstanding in academic performance, personal character, school activities, and constructive contribution to the University (the Nobili medal was awarded to Nick Obradovich).

"I had heard of the St. Clare Medal because Jessica Coblentz won it last year. I knew her because she was really involved on campus and had won a number of awards," said Lopez. "It's a really big honor at this university. I thought it was really cool. It was really neat too because I saw Nick walk out right before me. Once I knew what it was for, I was excited for Nick and then Krystal walked in after me and I found out we had all gotten university awards."

Even more exciting for Lopez was so many of her friends, classmates she eats dinner with a few times a month, received awards including the Richard J. Riordan Award (Richard Alexander, Lindsey Dunn, Jamie McCauley, Emma Nagengast and Anne Rovzar), The Nobili medals (Obradovich) and the highest award - Valedictorian (Ashby). Lopez said she always looks forward to the dinners, which include other friends of friends as well.

"It's a social dinner and we usually end up listening to Brandon's crazy music, play darts and normally, of course, a philosophical discussion breaks where we all gang up on Nick for his skepticism in general,' said Lopez. "I look forward to these dinners each time. I learned a lot of about them in conversation, including philosophical conversations, especially about them as people. But, they are good friends. I feel like we all care for one another's success and well being. And so we all take an active interest in the activities of each other."

"The dinners are always a hoot and Noelle is an integral part of that," said Ashby. "She may not always be the loudest, but she is usually the most profound, even if Nick is too skeptical to pay attention to her words of wisdom. And God help you if you go to the bathroom because that means some kind of prank is coming your way when you come out. One time when Anne left the room, the rest of us abandoned the apartment, which is on the first floor, and ran outside. We stood in a line outside the bay windows of the apartment and did our best creepy stalker poses. She came out, looked around and just sat on the couch without noticing us for a while. One of the better events was when we all had our parents over for parents weekend. We were all rather amazed how well our parents got along with each other, and how well we got along with our parents, too. It is goodness all around."

While Lopez is confident they will keep in touch after graduation and hopes they come and visit her next year at Oxford, the six will meet for dinner with other friends one last time prior to graduation on Thursday, at Ashby's. "It will probably be crazy as usual. We are thinking of doing a poetry reading afterwards so who knows what the night will bring. I might bring a couple poems - stuff I have written," said Lopez.

Her advice recently to Ashby on his Valedictorian address, "I told him he should wear a cowboy hat and boots, but I think he has it under control."

Wu has known Noelle since the first day of her freshman year. Wu was awarded the Peter-Hans Kolvenbach S.J. Award - given to graduating seniors who exemplify the ideals of Jesuit education especially being a "whole person of solidarity in the real world" and having the courage and faith to build a more just and humane world."

"I have known Noelle since my first day of school at SCU. We had an intermediate Spanish class together, and I remember being so nervous and unsure as to how I would survive in college," said Wu. "Noelle made me feel at ease right away; we talked about running (I had run cross country in high school) and about where we were from, and from that point on, I felt totally comfortable in the class. Sometimes we would walk from class to Benson to grab lunch, and she would tell me all about her Honors Islam class. I remember that she told me she had to write a really long paper for it -- like 20 pages or something -- and I thought to myself, "Oh my gosh, I could NEVER write that long of a paper the first quarter of my freshmen year!" But she had such a good attitude about it that it made me think about what I am capable of, and that sometimes having a contented outlook on things can really pay off in all areas of your life, including big homework assignments!"

A play Lopez penned was recently entered and performed in the Playwright's Festival. Lopez said it was well-received; and she credits the director and the cast for their amazing reading.

Her play, remember she is a Philosophy major, was about an island where the people basically started pursuing this really ambiguous flights. The ideal flight so much that they forgot who they were or how they got there. And the fact the effect of that - the ambiguous ideal - on relationships between people.

"It was really funny. I was really happy," said Lopez.

Does Lopez leave Santa Clara having met the expectations she had coming in?

"I don't know what I thought it would be," said Lopez. "That's the kind of education I would hope for in an institute of liberal education. I don't know that I really had a plan, but I am defiantly happy with how it turned out."

Lopez also had a few parting words for Santa Clara students, student-athletes especially.

"Try to get involved in things you feel passionate about because I think you will find good friends in doing that. And your time here will be more meaningful if you have some sort of practice or activity to which you are dedicated," said Lopez.

Her friends echo her own words and this story would be remiss if they weren't included.

"Being at SCU for me has meant getting to know and be around people like Noelle," added Wu. "Santa Clara has challenged me to be a better, more whole person who thinks beyond herself. I remember when she won the Rhodes scholarship, I saw her the next day early in the morning at the gym, where we often run into each other. I came up to her and told her how amazing it was that she had won it, and she just said, "Thank you! I am really happy." It was so simple, and it showed her gratitude for her accomplishment."

"Knowing Noelle has been great for me, and my friends," said Ashby. "She is a very good hearted person, very honest, and very funny, a rare combination. She exudes anti-curmudgeonliness which is a good thing since philosophers are prone to cynicism. Not to mention she is a heck of creative writer, in her plays and poetry, or at least what I have seen of them. I really look forward to staying in touch with her over the years."

"Noelle and I have been friends for a number of years now, and she's really an awesome person. She's also a most excellent athlete," said Obradovich. "I've been a sprinter in track and field pretty much my whole life, so I'm no stranger to running. But, this past term Noelle and I ran a few times together, and it was quite the hilarity. As I was gasping for air and struggling as we ran along, Noelle was chatting idly and barely breathing. The juxtaposition of 6'2" me huffing and puffing next to calm and complacent Noelle was quite funny indeed. It's been great to see Noelle have such success here at Santa Clara, and we've all been very pleased that her contributions to the community have been so well recognized."

"I didn't really get to know Noelle until the later half of this year," said Rovzar. "One of the first times we really get to know each other we went for a walk around Santa Clara, about four months ago or so. We talked about life, sat on a sidewalk in front of a house for awhile, had an awkard encounter with a woman and her children, went and got pizza...I think that day we ended up hanging out for at least five or six hours straight. There aren't many people who are willing to just wander and be with people like this, and I think that's something really special about Noelle and the way she prioritizes her much as she is a dedicated student, she is truly generous in her time with others.

"She's just really in touch with what is important in life, and she lives without any pretenses," continued Rovzar. "You'd think for someone who's so dang smart and with such a prestigious position next year, that somehow that would get to her head. But she remains such a humble person who is driven by a sincere desire to live a good life for herself and others. I respect Noelle immensely and am grateful for the friendship we have shared."