UW Today

This is an archived article.

June 9, 1998

123rd Commencement, President’s Medalist: Elisabeth Marie Zeller

News and Information

This year’s President’s Medalist describes herself unabashedly as “a big cheerleader for the University of Washington.”

Elisabeth Marie Zeller, 26, will be recognized as the outstanding senior at the university’s 123rd Commencement June 13 in Seattle. She is receiving bachelor’s degrees in history and economics.

“Coming back as an older student, I was ready to focus on academics,” she said. “My experience was simply fantastic. I heard people talk about the UW being big and bureaucratic. But nearly every professor that I had knew my name. And I had lots of small classes taught by dedicated professors.”

Zeller graduates with a grade point average of 3.97. She has been named to the dean’s list virtually every quarter that she was at the UW.

The President’s Medal is not necessarily awarded to the graduating senior with the highest grade point average. The total academic record is considered and the senior selected has the most distinguished record. Seven factors considered in determining the award include grades, courses taken, number of honors courses, number of credits per quarter, number of upper division courses, number of withdrawals and incompletes, and distribution of courses.

Zeller was born in Laxou, France, but her family moved to Connecticut when she was four years old. She attended high school in Connecticut and went to Brown University for two years. But she wasn’t that motivated by school back then.

“I always knew I’d go back to school, when academics became a priority again. I knew there would be things I wanted to accomplish for which I needed a degree.”

Meanwhile, she took four years off from school, working as a VISTA volunteer in Alaska. When she and her husband decided the time was right for her to return to school, they moved to Seattle and she enrolled at the UW.

“I always knew I wanted to study history, for the sheer joy of it. Economics I studied for the mix of social science and math.” In her spare time, Zeller worked for the Sexual Assault and Referral Information Service on campus and at the Vashon Island Domestic Violence Task Force. She also served on the Undergraduate Economics Board, and was a leader of a Freshman Interest Group (FIG). The FIG program brings together a group of students who are taking the same classes in a seminar-like setting to discuss informally topics that interest them, such as how to find information, study skills and other issues related to their adjustment to college life.

“The FIG program is great and is run by fantastic people,” she says. “It does a lot in helping freshmen overcome the bigness of the UW.”

Zeller, who recently went to work as a financial analyst for Intel in Portland, already is thinking of a return to academia, maybe in five years or so. “I’m interested in small business development, maybe a combination of business and public policy degrees. I have a strong desire to combine my interest in social issues with practice in the business world.

Her most memorable campus experience occurred in her second quarter at the UW when, as a requirement for a history course, she had to interview a faculty member in the department. “It was rainy day in February. I went into an office filled with books. Professor Dauril Alden had cookies and tea. We discussed Latin American history for two hours. It was wonderful. A quintessential academic experience.”