Seattle University President Stephen Sundborg, SJ, awarded the President’s Award to Olivia Gibbons in the College of Arts and Sciences. The award recognizes outstanding academic achievement by a graduating senior. Gibbons completed the University Honors program and majored in Spanish and International Studies with minors in English, Latin American Studies, and Philosophy.
Carrying more than a full load, Gibbons found time to volunteer with The Defender Association and American Civil Liberties Union, lead SU students on an immigrant experience trip to eastern Washington, work as a legal assistant, tutor, train volunteers at Rosehedge/Multifaith Works, and more.
Gibbons, a Sullivan scholar, chose Seattle University for its focus on social justice. Although her father is a Mexican immigrant, she did not speak Spanish at home. Eager to connect with her father's Spanish-speaking side of the family, she learned Spanish, taught English in Ecuador, and decided to spend her junior year in Seattle University programs in Granada, Spain, and Puebla, Mexico.
“In Europe I was overwhelmed by the art, architecture, and history,” she said. “History became real in a way I never could have imagined.”
Her experience in Puebla was more service-oriented. She volunteered at a legal clinic for women, translating and doing paralegal work on cases. Many of the women were victims of domestic violence. Some were illiterate. Others, particularly indigenous women, had difficult experiences finding out about resources and how to access them.
During her senior year, Gibbons volunteered at the Seattle office of the ACLU and found herself working with a people not too dissimilar from those in Puebla.
“I work with people who don’t know their rights,” she said. “Some don’t know how to read and write; others have been mistreated by the legal system. It didn’t take me long to decide to go to law school. It’s in the execution of laws where lawyers can have a real impact.”
Gibbons deferred her admittance into NYU Law School for a year to teach English in Mexico on a Fulbright grant.
“University Honors, with its small classes and cohort model, required a level of study and discourse beyond what I ever could have expected,” she said. “There was structure but also freedom to pick topics and conduct research that interested me. Those two years helped me get where I am today.”
The College of Arts and Sciences, the largest college in Seattle University, offers 42 undergraduate majors, 37 minors, and 6 master's degrees.
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