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Panamanian Student Isabela Tasende Named Notre Dame Valedictorian, Embodies the Future of Latinas in the U.S. 

Panamanian Student Isabela Tasende Named Notre Dame Valedictorian, Embodies the Future of Latinas in the U.S. 
Valedictorian Isabela Tasende (photo by Barbara Johnston/University of Notre Dame)

Isabela Tasende, a Panamanian with Puerto Rican parents, was named valedictorian of the University of Notre Dame’s class of 2024. She delivered her valedictory remarks at the commencement ceremony on May 19, showcasing her journey and accomplishments that reflect the direction Latinas are heading in the United States. 

Her Time in Notre Dame

During her time at Notre Dame, Tasende excelled academically, maintaining a 4.0 GPA as a political science and economics major and earning a spot on the dean’s list every semester, as reported by The Observer. Her outstanding work on her thesis, studying the Venezuelan military’s role in upholding the authoritarian regime, earned her the prestigious O’Donnell Prize for the best thesis in comparative politics. 

Tasende also founded Somos Voces, a charity in Panama aimed at helping teenage mothers who couldn’t finish their education to get their high school diplomas and establish themselves in the workforce. “It’s a very big problem in Panama. One out of three pregnancies are from a teenage girl,” she explained. The charity has provided advocacy, created educational spaces, and raised funds to offer college grants to top-performing young mothers. 

Reflecting on her valedictorian honor, Tasende shared with The Observer, “It’s a weird feeling because I am so unbelievably grateful and honored for the chance to speak to my classmates and to get this opportunity and this privilege. It’s just a sense of immense gratitude.” She emphasized the importance of balancing academic work with other aspects of life, saying, “Notre Dame says ‘heart, mind, and soul,’ but really taking that to heart and looking at education holistically and trying to prioritize your time to allow for exploration and fun.” 

Tasende’s involvement at Notre Dame extended beyond academics. She served as president of the Latino Honor Society, director of communications for the pre-law board, and director of casing for Consulting Connect. Additionally, she worked as a peer mentor for Building Bridges, a copy editor for the Keough School’s Global Ambassador magazine, and a volunteer for Cultivate Food Rescue in South Bend. 

Building relationships was another key aspect of Tasende’s college experience. “Another piece that has been fundamental to my college experience has been the relationships I have formed while here. Whether that’s friends, peers, or mentors, taking advantage of the incredible opportunity that Notre Dame offers. I found that relationships are what have truly allowed me to take advantage of the resources that are here,” she said. 

Tasende credited her sense of gratitude and positive attitude as essential for her success. “I feel like there are two ways to go about it. You can either white-knuckle your way through life and just push and grind, and that can work. But I have learned that leads to burnout,” she said. “I have a good friend at home who says ‘Don’t say “I have to do this homework.“ I get to do this homework.’ I think with that mentality, the privilege of a Notre Dame education will motivate you way more than any type of self-pressure to succeed would.” 

As a Kellogg International Scholar, Tasende assisted Professor Abby Córdova in studying violence against women in Central America, complementing her practical experience with academic research. She plans to continue her work with women’s organizations in Panama before starting her job at Bain Consulting. 

What Isabela Tasende Said During Her Speech

According to Notre Dame News, in her valedictory address, Tasende reflected on her heritage and the importance of gratitude and hope. “As the child of two brilliant, devoted, and hard-working immigrants, I know precisely what it’s like to have gratitude motivate discipline. Just so, the privilege of a Notre Dame education calls us out of complacency and into responsibility—to do what we can with what we have been given, and to give back to those who have made our journeys possible,” she said. She emphasized that hope is not naive but a necessary force for change, shaped by her family’s history and personal challenges. 


Isabela Tasende, la panameña nombrada la mejor estudiante de 2024 en la Universidad de Notre Dame Lee más aquí https://www.ellas.pa/mundo-ellas/profesion/isabela-tasende-la-panamena-nombrada-la-mejor-estudiante-de-2024-en-la-universidad-de-notre-dame/ #panama #RevistaEllas

♬ sonido original – ELLAS

Isabela Tasende’s accomplishments and outlook epitomize the future of Latinas in the United States, demonstrating how gratitude, hope, and a commitment to giving back can lead to remarkable achievements. 

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