By Kim West
Multifaceted would be a conservative term to describe Athens product and Harvard Medical School bound Rachael Rosales. She is tapped to give the undergraduate commencement speech at the University of Alabama at Birmingham on Saturday.
Rosales, a double major in philosophy and biology with a 3.95 GPA, will speak during the 9:30 a.m. ceremony for the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Education.
The petite 22-year-old, whose only other major speaking engagement was giving the valedictory address for Athens High School in 2009, has rehearsed her nearly 4-minute speech several times after submitting it for approval two weeks ago.
“The speech is about what commencement really means to all of us. It’s more about what it means to us as a community, rather than as individuals,” said Rosales on Wednesday afternoon.
UAB has 2,300 graduates this spring, and 600 are expected to walk across the stage at the 8,000-seat Bartow Arena. Rosales was nominated by a faculty member to speak and selected by the president’s office based on her academic record, leadership — she captained the school’s bioethics debate team to national championships in 2010 and 2011 — and community involvement.
During her four-year career at UAB, she has been a crisis counselor, tutor, peer mentor and research assistant while working on campus. She helped co-author a book, “How to Building a Better Human,” by philosophy department chair Dr. Gregory Pence. Rosales also wrote an op-ed piece about racial profiling that was published by The Birmingham News.
“Rachael can handle anything. She will be a great physician. She cares about social justice and the world …” said Pence in an interview with the UAB Reporter. “In 37 years of teaching undergraduates and medical students at UAB, she is … the most extraordinary undergraduate student I have ever mentored.”
Rosales was awarded medical schools scholarships to Vanderbilt and UAB, and she was accepted into med schools at Ivy League schools Dartmouth and Yale. She said the other schools she considered are top-notch, but she chose to attend Harvard Medical School because it was the best place to study health care for underprivileged populations.
“The reason I turned down the other scholarship offers is because Harvard was the best fit for me and my career interests. It wasn’t the prestige that made the decision for me,” said Rosales, who spent one summer studying biomedicine in Guatemala and speaks fluent Spanish. “Harvard has a commitment to minority affairs and culture, and care for the underserved in general. I had more of a natural affinity and more meaningful connections with the campus and the faculty.”
She encouraged high school graduates who are looking at colleges to find a place that allows them to fit in while being challenged in and out of the classroom.
“It’s about finding where you’re most comfortable and where you can grow the most. It’s important to keep an open mind and be open to new experiences and new interests,” she said.
Rosales is the daughter of Athens Middle School teacher Ana Rosales and Dr. Arturo Rosales, a vice president of veterinary services at Aviagen in Huntsville. Her sister is Athens High graduate Sarah Elizabeth Rosales, 20, a University of Alabama junior with the school’s top business GPA.
“I am very grateful for the support I’ve had from all the people in my life, especially my parents and all my teachers,” said Rosales, whose family and several Athens teachers have been invited to watch the ceremony from the president’s box.