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Katie Flynn holding her graduation certificate

Katie Flynn graduated from Caldwell University on May 17 with a passion for making college affordable for students. That enthusiasm grew from her leadership experiences including serving as vice chair of the student advisory committee for the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority and as president of the Caldwell University Student Government Association. It was amazing, she says, to work with the HESAA “to lobby for student needs and put students first. That dedication to students is what makes HESAA successful.”

The student government presidency at Caldwell “gave me an opportunity to live out the four core values of respect, integrity, community and excellence,” Katie says. It was a chance to fully immerse herself in the Caldwell experience—a lot to juggle, yes, “but fully worth it.”

She learned quite a bit about leadership and what it takes to represent others to help them get what they need and what they want. Her zeal for working on behalf of students gave her opportunities to network with other students, community leaders and lawmakers on the state and national levels. She is proud of the work the Caldwell SGA did in her junior year creating and hosting the successful “Meeting of SG Voices” on Caldwell’s campus, bringing together student and higher education leaders and legislators to discuss state higher education issues and to learn about professional development. That’s the beauty of Caldwell, Katie says—“we came up with crazy ideas” and got to implement them. “And it was even funny when things didn’t work out,” which was also a learning experience, she says.

As a member of the SGA for four years, Katie traveled to Washington, D.C., to attend events including the American Student Government Association conference and the National College Affordability Summit. For two years she attended the East Coast Catholic Colleges and Universities Affordability Summit, which Caldwell University, along with Georgetown and Loyola universities, hosted this year.

She received a B.A. in communication arts and political science and says the best part about attending Caldwell “was that you are not pigeon-holed. There is emphasis on development outside of the classroom, so you gain a wide variety of skills.”

She was awestruck by some of her Caldwell experiences including being selected to be the 2015 commencement speaker representing undergraduate students and a speaker at the 75th anniversary convocation—where it was special to “be surrounded by so many people.” She was chosen to receive the Caldwell University Trustee Recognition Award and the Independent College Fund of New Jersey’s Barry Gilman Humanitarian Scholarship for her work on behalf of college affordability and leadership development for aspiring young female leaders.

A “defining moment” was volunteering to help out an aging alumna, which she did on a regular basis. Even though that alum graduated in the ’50s, “she and I shared the experience of having a deep love for Caldwell.”

Caldwell was not on Katie’s radar in high school. She had her sights set on one of the big schools in the Northeast. But a Caldwell alumna, who ended up being her guidance counselor, urged her to apply to Caldwell. She did and got accepted into the scholars program, thinking, “I’ll go for a year, get a 4.0 and go to that Northeast school.” After one year at Caldwell, she no longer had a thought about transferring.

To afford college, Katie has had to rely on scholarships, TAG, and federal Pell grants, and she has had her share of obstacles. Through that lens she was able to work on behalf of other students. “The more you go through the more you understand what others go through,” she says. The community at Caldwell was there for her. “Students come to Caldwell for different reasons and stay for the same reasons. Caldwell wasn’t my first choice, but it was my best choice.”