“Sewanee has taught me the power of intentionality.”

Connection, Mentorship, & Unearthing Potential


Gabby Valentine, C’17
College Access Advisor
Niswonger Foundation
Major: American Studies

Gabby Valentine, C’17, was the kid writing short stories in her math book. She loved relevance and craved connectivity—that’s what drew her to Sewanee’s American Studies program. Gabby wanted something that would offer a more expansive view than a basic history class—she wanted culture, politics, and emphasis on community.

In one of her first major classes, Gabby remembers a professor telling the story of a slave who bought his freedom and escaped on a Confederate ship. His story was one of bravery and unrivaled success. This former slave turned soldier, businessman, and politician eventually bought his former master’s house in Beaufort, South Carolina.

“Then the professor told us that’s the house John McCardell, the vice-chancellor of Sewanee, lives in now,” Gabby says. “That story blew my mind. I talked about it for days. After that, I realized how deeply history, culture, and literature is connected to real life—to today.”

Gabby went all-in with community engagement by becoming a Bonner Leader. This four-year commitment requires students to dive deep into advocacy, service, and social justice. Gabby worked with the Community Action Committee, a local nonprofit located in downtown Sewanee. For eight to 10 hours per week, Gabby helped to organize programs like the food bank, community gardening, and tutoring.

“This work was the catalyst to me understanding what I valued in community and how those skills could be carried over into the workplace,” Gabby says.

Now, Gabby is a college access advisor for three separate schools in Sullivan County, Tennessee. In this position, she enhances students’ college search process by offering in-depth services. She helps motivate students by helping them meet deadlines, fill out the FAFSA, and complete other daunting tasks.

“I work with kids on their entrance essays, and they don’t realize their potential,” Gabby say. “I always tell them, ‘You have a story. You have a culture—use it.’ ”

Having such a well-rounded perspective has helped Gabby understand her students more deeply. She looks at her own cultural and environmental impacts on a place while helping students discover how to do the same. 

“I’m the only brown person in leadership here, too,” Gabby says. “I’m able to be a mentor in ways I never thought I could. And Sewanee taught me to treat all these instances and individuals as a learning opportunity—to gain something really valuable—whether it’s a new relationship, a sense of patience, or even empathy.”