CCA alum selected as speaker at her college graduation

Aria Ballance relaxing in the theater at Lewis & Clark College.
(Mackenzie Bath)

Canyon Crest Academy alumna Aria Ballance has been chosen as the winner of this year’s Senior Speaker Competition at Lewis & Clark College in Oregon, where she will be graduating with her 2019 class. She’ll address the College of Arts and Sciences at her commencement on May 11.

A committee of seniors, staff, and faculty selected Aria, who is a chemistry major and theater minor. As president of the Alumni Association, she was nominated to be the senior speaker by someone in the alumni office. At first, she thought she couldn’t do it because the writing process had always been daunting to her. But she remembered the support of two of her CCA teachers, Zachary Brown and Milan Perisic.

“As a STEM major,” Ballance explains, “I have never been confident with my reading or writing skills. They gave me so much support during my time at CCA, reading and rereading my college applications, writing me letters of recommendation and coming to all my theater shows. Without their support, I probably wouldn’t have even attempted to write a speech. I am so grateful to both of them.”

CCA grad
Aria Ballance at her Canyon Crest Academy graduation. Courtesy

Ballance says the two take-home messages in her speech are love and being present.

“I feel like everyone always talks about how the graduating class has this huge obligation to change the world, which is really daunting,” she says. “It made me scared to take the next step of leaving a place where I have spent four wonderful years. But I think what the world needs the most right now is love and then good change will come with it. So all we have to do is show that we care and give love to the things that have been forgotten and lost along the way.”

Being present is something Ballance has honed through both chemistry and theater.

“They both require an intense amount of listening, presence and energy. With chemistry, you have to say focused on the experiment you’re conducting or it will blow up in your face. For theater, the hard part comes when you have to perform the scene as though you are doing it for the first time. That requires you to be fully present in the moment and listen to your environment.”

Looking back, Ballance says she chose Lewis & Clark College because it offered “breathing room” in her schedule as a chemistry major, which allowed her to study abroad in India and continue to pursue her passion for theater. She also enjoys the small class sizes and the proximity to Portland.

In addition to her impressive academic credentials, Ballance says her experience at Lewis & Clark has taught her three important life lessons: being vulnerable, jumping (i.e., being brave) and walking with an open heart.

“Being vulnerable for me has meant talking to my professors about a concept I don’t understand, telling a friend that I am struggling, or raising my hand in class. It’s scary and I used to never do those things in high school because I was pretty good at being invisible.”

However, Balance believes that walking with an open heart is the most important lesson she’s learned. “Not only of how to love others but how to love myself. Don’t get me wrong, love is still the scariest word in the dictionary but a little less so since coming to college. Something that helped me was not falling in love with the big idea of chemistry or the big idea of theater, but falling in love with the tiny little things, like getting to put on my lab coat or the feeling of when the lights go down before a performance.”

After delivering her speech, Ballance will spend the summer at the University of Utah doing research in biochemistry as part of a National Science Foundation program. As she looks to the future, her plan is to take a year off and then apply to graduate school in the fall. She hopes to get her Ph.D. in chemistry and become a chemistry professor one day.