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Student speaker celebrates connections

Kristen B. Morales

April 30, 2018

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This year's spring convocation speaker, Emily Wallace, is fulfilling a promise she made to herself when she began her College of Education journey four years ago.

"I saw the opportunity on the digital screens to be a student speaker at convocation, and I told my dad, 'I want to do that,'" said Wallace, who will be graduating from the University of Georgia on May 4 with a bachelor's degree in communication sciences and disorders. "But my dad reminded me, 'You know you have to speak in front of a lot of people?' That was something I had to work on."

But in her final semester, when the opportunity to apply to be a student speaker came up, Wallace decided to go for it. Competition for the role is always tough—this year the Office of Student Services vetted eight finalists before choosing Wallace—but she was determined.

This determination and drive is similar to what drew her to the UGA College of Education to begin with. In high school, Wallace realized she wanted a career that blended teaching with a medical field. UGA's department of communication sciences and special education was the perfect fit—mostly.

"I've changed my major several times since I've been at Georgia, but it's always been within the College of Education—I went from communication sciences and disorders to special education to English education to English and history education to communication sciences and disorders," she said, laughing.

And while the changes weren't always official, she noted it was convenient having similar but different majors within the same college.

"It's been really cool to have classes with so many other majors that are so different, but also related to mine," she added. "I knew I wanted something that was a mix between the medical field and teaching, so this is like the perfect harmony of those two things. And I've also just always had a huge heart for kids with special needs, and this is a great way to incorporate that into my profession."

Outside of class, Wallace is a resident advisor in Creswell Hall, is a small group leader at Athens Church and is vice president of the UGA chapter of the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association. Originally from outside of Rome, Georgia, Wallace is also involved in an annual event that keeps her connected with her hometown even when she's in Athens: She organizes, with her best friend, an annual winter formal for individuals with special needs.

"This will be our third year doing it, but it's a lot of work," she said. "I told my best friend (about the idea), and then my youth pastor picked up on it. It's been a learning thing for me because I haven't been able to have my hand in everything that I wanted to, but it's also shown me that, with delegation, things can get done."

Although she longs to move back to Northwest Georgia and be near family, that opportunity won't come just yet. She will return to UGA this fall to pursue her master's in communication sciences and disorders.

It's been strange, she admits, celebrating graduation with her friends while knowing she'll be back in a few months. But Athens has become a second home, and she understands that in her field, the extra training is necessary not just for her but also for her future clients.

"It's definitely hard, especially when I see people who are like, 'Last class ever! Last test ever!' But it's also so humbling to see the people I've had classes with all throughout college who are now graduating," she said. "So it's not only a victory for me and my cohort, but it's a victory for everyone else walking across the stage who I've had classes with. It's just a really cool thing to see."