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Valedictorian Rachel Hetrick (ʼ23) Takes Mental Health Advocacy Center-Stage

Posted on 5/20/2023 8:24:38 AM

The future used to be a scary consideration for Rachel Hetrick (ʼ23), who earned her Graphic Design degree as Valedictorian of the Class of 2023 on Sunday, May 21.

Now, through the power of advocacy and her own resilience, Hetrick is optimistic about what’s to come. She will begin a full-time graphic design position with Carlino’s Market in Ardmore this summer, but the road to this point has been challenging and treacherous.

Hetrick said she struggled with mental illness for much of her young adult life, but it came to an insurmountable point during the fall of her junior year.

“I was really good at hiding it and telling myself I have to keep going,” she said. “But, mental health challenges don’t really work that way. It’s the same with any illness, you can’t ignore it and make it go away.”

She began seeing a therapist and undergoing treatment five days per week, but remained a full-time student keeping up with coursework.

“There were so many people that reached out to me and were looking out for me to make sure I stayed on track,” she said, noting how the support of professors, friends, coaches, and her Cabrini Rowing teammates helped her through the hardest period in her life. “My village is huge, and I’m so thankful for that.”

Over a year later, Hetrick said she sees herself and others with a newfound clarity that enables her to advocate for those struggling with mental health issues. Always a cheerleader for her peers, Hetrick has been a regular participant in Cabrini’s Collegiate Recovery Program and introduced some of her classmates to its services.

“Once I was able to get better and have the stability that I have now, I was like I need to tell people that there is hope,” she said. “I wish someone would have told me when I was younger that you don’t have to stay that way and you are going to get so much better.”

She also volunteers with the National Alliance on Mental Illness’s “Ending the Silence” program, sharing her story with local middle and high school students.

“I am so proud of Rachel: an outstanding student athlete, a creative graphic designer, a dedicated mental health advocate, and a beautiful representation of an Education of the Heart,” said Michelle Filling-Brown, PhD, Dean, Academic Affairs.

To Hetrick, Cabrini’s signature Education of the Heart is all about advocacy in its most fundamental form.

“When I think about the Education of the Heart…it comes down to: everywhere you go, you are an advocate,” she said. “It could come down to just being an advocate for the person next to you and making their experience easier. You don’t have to have any status to be an advocate. Use your voice.”

As Hetrick embarks on her professional career, she’s keeping two of her Cabrini passions alive. She will continue rowing through a boating club located at “the mecca,” Boathouse Row. And most importantly, she will continue using her voice.

“I’m going to continue on in advocacy,” she said. “I’m not leaving that at Cabrini. It’s still going on with me everywhere.”