Celebrating Our Graduates; Student Affairs

Graduation Spotlight: Finnell reflects on the resilience and feeling of validation among Class of 2022


Clemson University is known for its engineering program.

It’s also renowned for big-time college football.

Neither necessarily piqued Sophie Finnell’s initial interest in Clemson. But that didn’t stop her from seriously considering the Upstate institution when applying for schools.

“As a senior, I visited a friend who was thriving as a student and feeling a connection to the school and that made me feel confident in my decision to ultimately choose Clemson,” admitted Finnell, who went to Greenville Tech Charter High School in South Carolina. “I realized there’s not just one cookie-cutter version of a Clemson student or a fulfilling college experience.”

Four years later, Finnell is on the doorstep of graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She is set to walk across the stage in Littlejohn Coliseum on Friday, May 13 during the 1 p.m. commencement ceremony.

Sophie Finnell receives general and departmental honors in May 2022
Sophie Finnell, a psychology major, is graduating with general and departmental honors.

Finnell credits the psychology department for much of her development. After changing her major from preprofessional health studies during Orientation, she was welcomed with open arms by Jeff Moore, a psychology advisor. She has fond recollections of her classes, including her very first — lifespan development psychology, taught by Dr. Pamela Alley.

“That helped me get involved in creative inquiry and as a personal teaching assistant,” Finnell said. “Through the CI, I’ve studied blood pressure, risk-taking behaviors and emotional responses with Dr. James McCubbin — a leading researcher in the field. I’ve interned with Gateway House, a non-profit mental health rehabilitation center in Greenville, which allowed me to see the impact of mental illness on an individual level.”

Finnell finished her departmental honors thesis last Spring and has served as president of Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology, throughout her final academic term.

Involvement outside of the classroom has been just as instrumental in Finnell’s development. She wasted no time in joining Freshman Council, part of Clemson Undergraduate Student Government (CUSG). From there, she joined the Student Senate and later chaired CUSG’s innovation and technology committee.

This past year, she served as CUSG’s secretary of communications, working closely as an advisor to President William Reinert and Vice President Liza Lowder.

Erica Wearing, William Reinert and Sophie Finnell at the 2021 dedication of Samuel J. Cadden Chapel
Finnell (right) took in the dedication of Samuel J. Cadden Chapel in December 2021 alongside Erica Wearing and William Reinert.

“The most rewarding part of the role was helping other students feel confident in themselves when contacted by members of the news media, either at Clemson or outside the University,” explained Finnell, a former resident assistant who helped bring a new living-learning community for members of the LGBTQ community to campus in Fall 2021. “I wanted to bring a varied perspective to the position, to empower students to give their own unique opinions about things occurring on campus. Their voices on all topics are very valuable.”

Finnell has seen firsthand the value of the Clemson Experience. She said it’s only grown since the University returned to normal campus operations for 2021-22, as events such as Tigerama last Fall and the CUSG Spring Block Party provided a sense of community for students.

The thought of graduation didn’t hit until her final semester. She waited to purchase her Clemson ring and went through the ceremony this Spring, which led to a slew of emotions.

“I definitely broke down after the ring ceremony,” said Finnell, who hopes to work in mental health in her hometown of Greenville while applying to graduate programs in the Fall. “I’ll be very sad to leave Clemson and the people here. But, I’m excited my family and all families can be here to support our graduating class — in a much different capacity than the past couple of years. This class is resilient and the celebration will be validating for all of us.”