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2023 Valedictorians Announced

April 17, 2023

Headshots of the eight valedictorians
2023 Valedictorians in the College of Family, Home, & Social Sciences are (top left to right) Sarah Sowards Taylor, Abbigail Willis, John Eaton, Jennalyn Shelton, (bottom left to right) Megan Catherine Ketchum, Clara Cullen, Julia Dias Blankmeyer, and Rachel Sumsion.

Eight outstanding students in the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences have been named valedictorian for 2023 graduation services. The valedictorians representing each department in the college are highlighted below. They are selected based on GPA, professor recommendations, and department involvement.

The student speaker for College Convocation will be Jennalyn Shelton, who is valedictorian for the Geography Department. The featured speaker is Jeffrey Hill, professor in the School of Family Life, who is retiring after 25 years.

College Convocation will be held in the Marriott Center on Friday, April 28, at 11 a.m. Tickets are not required and seating is general admission.

The University Commencement Ceremony will be held on Thursday, April 27, at 10 a.m. in the Marriott Center. Graduates may reserve up to three guest tickets online by April 24.

Congratulations to all 2023 graduates — we’re proud of you!

Convocation Speaker

a headshot of E. Jeffrey Hill

E. Jeffrey Hill is a professor in the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University. In his 25 years at BYU, he has taught more than 20,000 delightful students and this has been his true love (second only to his wife Tammy). His research focuses on family finance and on the work-family interface and he’s published more than 100 scholarly articles and book chapters with almost 12,000 citations. Recently, Hill organized a series of Family Finance Research Renaissance Retreats with top global scholars to revitalize the study of finances from a family perspective. Prior to BYU, Hill worked as a work and family subject matter expert at IBM where he pioneered many flexible work options including telecommuting, job sharing, and paternity leave. He received a master’s degree in organizational behavior from the BYU Marriott School and a PhD in family and human development from Utah State University. Coincidentally, Hill’s wife has taught more than 10,000 students about marriage in her 10 years as an adjunct professor in the School of Family Life. They are the parents of 12 children and 38 grandchildren with two more on the way. They both love BYU and, with mixed emotions, are retiring after this semester.


Sarah Sowards Taylor is a sociocultural anthropology major and has a special interest in medical anthropology. She worked as a research assistant for Jacob Hickman, studied and researched in Thailand on two occasions to learn about Hmong language and culture (specifically shamanism and their beliefs on wellness), and researched the delivery of rural healthcare for the University of Utah’s Health Network. Sarah is both a Wheatley Institute scholar and Daniel’s Fund scholar and is grateful for the support she has received from both of these institutions. Sarah grew up in Enoch, Utah, and wishes to thank her parents, 11 siblings, professors, colleagues, and other friends and family for their love and encouragement. Most of all, she expresses gratitude for her husband Zachary who has been an incredible source of strength and support to her as she has chased her goals, the next of which is to attend PA school.

Abbigail Willis is a double major in economics and mathematics. She worked as a teaching and research assistant in the Economics Department and loves the discipline for its combination of people-centered thinking and mathematical analysis. She has written on the effects of paid family leave on personal and economic outcomes and on expanding naloxone access. Her next step is to begin an economics PhD program this fall. At BYU, Abby loved the mountain views, yelling “Woosh, Kevin!” at basketball games, and making good use of her access to the West View Building. She is grateful to her family and professors for offering her opportunities to grow as an individual and scholar, and to her friends and her many Taylor Swift playlists, both of which made doing hours of homework bearable and even enjoyable. Abby grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland, and served a mission in Calgary, Canada.

Family Life
John Clayton Eaton’s desire to learn new things eventually led him to major in human development and minor in biological foundations. He has appreciated learning about the importance of a healthy home environment as well as the crucial role that supportive private and public settings play in an individual's overall well-being. John looks forward to applying what he learned as he attends law school and hopes to bring a greater understanding of social interconnectedness to the law. Moving forward in his academic and professional career, he remains committed to his values and passions. John is excited for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, and he looks forward to making his own unique mark on the world. John is from Kaysville, Utah, and is grateful for the many mentors he met and the many life lessons he has learned along the way.

Jennalyn Shelton is a geography major with an emphasis in global studies and minors in international development and creative writing. While at BYU, she served as president of the Geography Student Association, worked as a first-year peer mentor, and was a teaching assistant for professors Daniel Olsen and Ruth Kerry. A highlight of her college experiences was participating in the Multicultural Europe study abroad in Summer 2022 under Jill and Stan Knapp. Jennalyn is preparing to pursue a masters degree in school counseling while she continues to explore her career path. She is grateful for her professors, classmates, coworkers, friends, family, and all others who have made her BYU experience educational and life changing. Jennalyn is from Meridian, Idaho, and loves to travel, write, and spend time with friends and family. She is the youngest child of Julianne and Cary Shelton and a proud aunt of three.

Megan Catherine Ketchum is a history teaching major. She received the Bertis L. and Anna E.C. Embry Award in Global Latter-day Saint History for her capstone paper on the Mormon Pioneers and the American Civil War. She interned with the Department of Education in Washington, D.C. and completed her student teaching with eighth-grade U.S. history students. She took a variety of history and political science classes at BYU and even worked in the History Department as a receptionist. Megan looks forward to working as a full-time ninth-grade world history teacher at Springville Junior High School. Megan grew up in the shadow of Y Mountain in Springville, Utah. She first developed her love of history after reading Michael Shaara’s Killer Angels in high school and visiting Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, with her family. Her love of teaching grew after serving a mission in Lima, Peru.

Political Science 
Clara Cullen is graduating in political science with a research and analysis emphasis and minor in family studies. She loves social science research and her co-authored piece on parental time investments was recently published in Social Sciences. She was a student fellow for the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy and presented multiple research projects at national political science conferences. She served as president of the Political Affairs Society and as an editor for the political science student journal Sigma where she published a paper on view-shaping and autonomy in the 2023 edition. Clara is excited to pursue a graduate degree in political science, and she is incredibly grateful for her family’s support and the meaningful mentorship she has received at BYU. Clara served a mission in Frankfurt, Germany, and was raised in Provo, Utah. She is a middle child with five brothers, and daughter of Sven and Nancy Wilson.

Julia Dias Blankmeyer has explored her deep passion for psychology at BYU. As a psychology major, she worked with several professors on research projects involving emotion expression, unconscious bias in hiring, and brain lesions. She plans to further explore these interests and passions by attending medical school and specializing in psychiatry. Julia’s route to BYU spanned continents, languages, and cultures. As a young child, she left São Paulo with her family and immigrated to the United States where their first exposure to American culture was in Springdale, Arkansas. Julia spent most of her teenage years in Rhode Island where she enjoyed playing sports and surfing. Her family made another move to Colorado where she graduated from high school and began an online college experience with BYU-Hawaii. After meeting and marrying her husband Erik during the Covid-19 pandemic, Julia transferred to BYU in Provo.

Rachel Sumsion majored in sociology and completed minors in business, international development, and nonprofit management. During her time at BYU, she worked as a teaching and research assistant in the Sociology Department, and interned as a consultant. Rachel contributed to various research projects, published papers, and presented posters about social impacts, innovation, community, food insecurity, volunteerism, and first-generation college students. Rachel was actively involved with the Ballard Center and contributed her sociological perspective and research skills to a Social Impact Project. She looks forward to continuing her studies at BYU this fall as a master’s student in the Public Administration program. Rachel is grateful to her mentors, professors, colleagues, family, and friends for their encouragement and support. She grew up in Lehi, Utah, and served a mission in Calgary, Canada. In her free time, Rachel loves running and being with her husband.

See profiles of more of our wonderful graduates at