2012 Valedictorian: Exceptional, not TraditionalApril 27, 2012
Author: Jennifer Burt
Very little about senior psychology major Gwen Knight would be considered standard for a college graduate.
For starters, she is one of just six undergraduate students to be graduating from SUU next Friday with a perfect 4.0 grade point average.
Among them, Knight further stands out, with an impressive record of service as a leader within the Psi Chi National Honor Society and field advisor to many of her student peers in service-learning initiatives.
She has accomplished all of this while also balancing constant pressures beyond the classroom as matriarch to a blended family of 11 children and 22 grandchildren—with two more on the way—and directing case coordinator for the Utah Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program.
With that, it is all the more surprising that Knight was able to find time to go to college at all, let alone emerge victorious as Southern Utah University’s 2012 valedictorian.
With an extraordinary commitment not only to her studies but also to her peers, family and profession, Gwen Knight is anything but traditional—she is exceptional.
The last among her and her husband’s blended family of 11 children to earn a college degree, Knight will graduate next week alongside her youngest son, Ryan Scholes.
And though it has certainly taken countless hours of study and an ironclad determination to bring Knight to this point, the 2012 valedictorian is quick to credit her family for all that she has been able to achieve.
“From the very beginning, my children and my grandchildren have been my inspiration,” explains Knight.
“In the past few years, I have sat through many graduation ceremonies at SUU, watching three of my sons, one of my daughters and four of my children’s spouses receive their SUU diplomas. And I have been so inspired every time. I knew I needed to make my education a priority.”
And with that, she became a Thunderbird, first enrolling in just one general ed. class at a time. Once Knight and her family became more accustomed to their new balancing act, she began taking more classes each semester and now leaves SUU as the University’s top student.
Of her new title as valedictorian, Knight says, “I am just so surprised and so honored. I am not the smartest person in the world, but I work hard. I think I am still in shock that it has all paid off in such a grand way.”
Her professors and advisors, however, are not at all surprised, explaining that she was always ready to learn and always eager to contribute in class discussions.
Of this, says Knight, “Given all that my family has had to sacrifice for me to do this, I just felt like I had better do my best.”
As it turns out, Knight’s “best” is extraordinary.
In addition to doing well in all of her classes and developing lasting friendships with both professors and peers, Knight has also worked with SUU’s Service Learning program to develop an educational partnership between her employer and SUU’s Department of Psychology, volunteering to serve as advisor to several students each semester who are seeking real world professional experience as they prepare for professions in the social service field.
Factoring in the pressures of motherhood and a full-time professional job, as well as the external demands on both her time and energy from various volunteer positions, the only thing that is more surprising than that Knight was able to successfully juggle it all at all, is that she now comes out on the other side with more energy and enthusiasm than most graduates more than half her age.
Knight has a perspective on the future that is full of hope and possibility.
Though she now plans to continue, degree in hand, in her current professional position, she claims she is not yet done with academia, having “thoroughly enjoyed every day” of her time as a student.
Proving that learning truly does live forever, Knight is anxious to next pursue a graduate degree in social work and speaks with excitement about all that she hopes to learn and to one day contribute to the field of social work.
She adds with a smile, “I guess I’m proof that you really are never too old to learn.”