Student Leaders Honored at Camellia Student Leadership Awards Ceremony

Junior Regina Gallardo and sophomore Alana Mackey pose for photo in front of the Camellia Awards backdrop
Author  Josh Idaszak
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Wellesley held its fifth annual Camellia Student Leadership Awards ceremony honoring individual and collective leadership on April 20 in person in the Alumnae Ballroom, after two years of marking the occasion virtually.

Named for the camellia tree given to Wellesley by its founders, Henry and Pauline Durant, the awards celebrate leadership and service on campus, in the Boston area, and beyond in the categories of self-awareness, engagement with others, and connection to purpose.

Many of this year’s winners highlighted the importance of recognizing work that can sometimes go uncelebrated and acknowledging how students at different points in their Wellesley experience can come together to create lasting change.

“College students come and go, and with a new incoming class and outgoing one each year, it can be easy to forget those before us who advocated for something, whether it be a new resource, a tenure-track position, or something else that future Wellesley students may take for granted,” said Jenna Hua ’22. She received the community cultivation leadership award for establishing the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) First-Year Fellowship Program to create a space for her fellow AAPI students to reflect on, explore, and affirm their racial experience and identity. “Institutionalizing this progress and providing recognition where it’s due is important to acknowledge benchmarks for how far we’ve come and understand how much more work we still have to do,” Hua said.

“The Camellia leadership awards, and a formal recognition of student leadership on campus, is so meaningful to me because of how much student contribution on campus often goes unnoticed,” said Riya Balachandran ’24, who won the Sed Ministrare Award for her work developing and advocating for innovative, accessible, and culturally diverse programming through residential life, as well as other organizations on campus. “So much of leadership isn’t the accomplishment of goals, but the unseen work, passion, and time that students dedicate to their communities. Wellesley student leaders are the reason why this community is as amazing as it is.”

The honorees also emphasized the importance of communal leadership and of leading in ways that foster community.

“Valuable leadership, especially on this campus, is leadership that inspires and brings people together—that strengthens the community and addresses the community’s needs in order to make the campus a better place for everyone,” said Yuling Sun ’24. She was part of the team that won the inclusive leadership award for building a resource bank, TransparenCS, for any students interested in studying computer science regardless of their familiarity with the subject. The repository includes information on how to learn to code, find a summer internship, strengthen existing programming skills, join existing tech-focused communities, or take classes outside of Wellesley that count toward the computer science major.

“It’s important for our leadership to be honored like this because it raises awareness for our organization, and the changes we aim to make regarding substance use education, activism, and support,” said Zo Shaw ’23, a member of the team that won the creative learning award for its workshops rooted in harm-reduction strategies to educate students about substance abuse. “Student leadership is valuable on campus because it empowers others to follow suit.”

“Leadership is not a title, but a daily action and a loving commitment to community,” added Cielo Chavarria ’25, recipient of the emerging leadership award for helping to raise over $5,000 for The Wellesley Fund. “The nominees and recipients embody a selfless leadership that stems from a genuine love of Wellesley. They weren’t seeking an award, but pursuing and creating a better community. They were leading with love.”

The 10 Camellia awards are given to individual leaders and groups nominated by students, faculty, and staff. Sheilah Horton, dean of students, and a committee composed of representatives from the offices of Student Life and Career Education select the recipients. Individual award-winners receive a custom-designed sterling silver camellia pin, and winning student groups have their names engraved on a permanent plaque in the Lulu Chow Wang Campus Center and receive a $100 grant to promote their work.

“Mental health advocacy, and Active Minds by extension, is partly why I came to Wellesley,” said Maddie Paoletti ’22, this year’s team leadership award winner for her contributions as president of Wellesley College Active Minds, the College’s student-run mental health organization. Paoletti, who has led the organization since spring 2020, worked to strengthen its programming and resources to actively support students as the pandemic unfolded. “If I made one person’s day better because of our initiatives, then they are worthwhile,” she said. “I’m glad the Camellia Awards exist to highlight student achievements outside of academic pursuits.”

“Being honored for my leadership also honors all the wonderful mentors and fellow sibs who have allowed me to grow into the person I want to be while at Wellesley,” said Regina Gallardo ’23, who earned the balanced leader award for founding and developing the College’s new arts magazine, Pentimento, and for advocating for increasing equity and inclusivity in the art world. “These awards are a reflection of how our community helps each other learn from each other by leading. I think it relates to our motto, not to be ministered unto but to minister. We become leaders by serving others, and we inspire other people to do the same.”