Meet the 2012 Valedictorians

May 09, 2012

Michael Van Den Berg '12 and Christian Bromley '12
2012 Valedictorians Michael van den Berg '12 and Christian Bromley '12. (Photo by Judy Watson Tracy)

Michael van den Berg ’12 and Christian Bromley ’12 will share just three things in common at commencement on Sunday, May 13: the stage, the same GPA., and law school plans. This year’s valedictorians are as different as they come—for starters, van den Berg is an English and economics major and Bromley is an art history major—but for a liberal arts college, the contrast of college experiences couldn’t be more fitting.

“I plan to address my personal connection to the school and how to succeed after Rollins,” said van den Berg of his commencement speech. “I have a lot of great relationships with professors, which is really the most important thing about Rollins. Being able to work with them closely and engage in a high level of scholarship has been invaluable.”

Despite writing two theses in his senior year, van den Berg managed a 3.98 GPA, an achievement that not only secured him the role of co-valedictorian, but also contributed to his earning a dean’s fellowship for the University of Pennsylvania Law School where he’ll begin his law degree in the fall.

“I’ve learned that nobody is going to give you anything. If you want something, set your sights on it and work for it,” said van den Berg. “The world is filled with bright, talented people—what sets you apart is your ability to execute.”

Van den Berg is the oldest of six children and will tell you, uncomplaining, that his parents held the bar high for him and expected him to be a good role model for his siblings. “I probably heard it twice a day growing up—‘set a good example for your brothers and sisters’—but my parents never accepted anything less than what I was capable of.”

The rugby player has taken his college experience seriously right from the beginning, a fact that he concedes probably has a lot to do with his late start; van den Berg became a professional musician immediately after high school and toured oversees in Japan with Evanescence for a few months. “I eventually realized that music wasn’t what I wanted to do. As a result, I didn’t start college until I was 20. I was really motivated to be here, rather than being just another freshman swept along with the herd arriving from high school.”

While van den Berg’s path has been forged with hard work and tenacity, Christian Bromley would likely tell you that the secret to his success has been his ability to explore and be open to new experiences and opportunities. He has a traveler’s heart. Born and raised in Tampa, Bromley holds a United Kingdom passport, has traveled extensively in his lifetime, and took his first airplane ride on the day he was born when he had to be transported to Miami for emergency open-heart surgery. 

“I wouldn’t describe myself as indecisive. I’m always sure where I am going, but I am always open to that changing. I see life as a distinct path but there are also plenty of exits,” said Bromley, who was accepted at 12 top law schools and will attend Emory Law as a merit fellow in the fall. He’s hardly a slacker; Bromley finished his major, minor, and thesis in three years.

At first blush, an art history major going to law school might seem a little odd, but Bromley has a plan, and a pretty good one at that. “What I plan to do in the future is dive into the really interesting intersection between the art world and the legal world,” said Bromley, who can see himself working on cultural property and cultural heritage issues. “I’ll balance my law school focus on property law and international law.”

One thing is for sure, his career will likely be based in Europe and filled with exciting travels. “I’m completely open to living in any large, exciting metropolis in the world and more than happy to be traveling all of the time,” said Bromley, who spent the summer of 2010 taking two photography classes at the Edinburgh College of Art and planned one of the College’s first student run-and-led field studies to Rome this past spring.

Commencement is definitely bittersweet for Bromley. “I am incredibly sad to leave my professors and friends. I have a ton of international friends, and we’ll literally be scattered across the world.” But Bromley departs Rollins not only with 3.98 GPA, but also with unforgettable memories and experiences, such as the course he took with Associate Professor of Art Kimberly Dennis in which he and his classmates were given the opportunity to curate an entire exhibition at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum. “We all got such an interesting insight into how the curating process works and the business side of running a museum.” While at Rollins, Bromley also founded and was the co-president of the Art History Society.

For his commencement speech, Bromley plans to explore the social construction of graduation and what it means to graduate. "As co-valedictorian, I am honored to represent the Class of 2012, not just myself at commencement,” he said. “Graduation is something I share with my peers, but past, present, and future graduates at Rollins all hold a unique understanding of what graduation means to them. It is this diverse amalgam of interpretations that I hope to explore through my speech."

Nevertheless, for these two superstars, commencement is merely the beginning of another bright journey undoubtedly filled with more adventures and triumphs.

By Kristen Manieri

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