Like many of her classmates, Danielle Brown of Woodbine, Maryland, knew that she wanted to be a veterinarian from an early age.

“It was the first job I ever wanted to have,” said Brown, who is a fourth-year student at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech. “The yearbook in fifth grade asked, ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’ and I was one of the 50 percent of girls in my class who said I wanted to be a veterinarian.”

When she graduates later this week, Brown will not only realize her childhood dream, but she'll do so with top honors as the college’s Class of 2016 valedictorian.

Brown, who is pursuing the college’s mixed species track, has a long history of high academic achievement. In high school, she attended the Notre Dame Preparatory School in Towson, Maryland, where she graduated in the top 5 percent of her class. Although Brown always had a passion for veterinary medicine and has experiences with horses through riding lessons and volunteer work with a horse rescue near her house, her time as a writer and copyeditor for her high school newspaper also sparked an interest in journalism.

“I was originally admitted into the journalism program at the University of Maryland at College Park and did that for a semester before realizing that it was not for me,” said Brown, who briefly switched her major to psychology before deciding on animal science. “I had to reassess what I wanted to do, and the first thing that came to the top of my mind when I sat down and envisioned my life in the future was to become a veterinarian.”

Brown graduated magna cum laude from the University of Maryland and was accepted into the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. She attributed her success in veterinary school to “hard work and motivation.”

“There were certainly times when I just had to push myself,” said Brown, who picked up a competitive streak playing soccer and running track in middle and high school. “When there were a million other things I would rather be doing, I continued to push. It’s an exhausting program, as I’m sure anyone who goes here can attest to. It’s very demanding on our time and our reserves, but I think the continuous drive has helped. I have always strived to do well.”

Brown described her professors as “one of the brightest spots of the whole program” over the past four years. “They’re all so willing to help you and answer any questions that you have,” she said. “It just genuinely feels like they’re here because they want us to learn. They are incredibly knowledgeable and fun to work with, as well.”

Outside of the classroom and clinics, Brown has volunteered with Omega Tau Sigma, the college’s veterinary service fraternity, and has been a member of the Public Veterinary Practice Club, where she gained more exposure to zoo medicine.

“I have an interest in zoological medicine as well, but I don’t want to do that primarily,” Brown said. “My ultimate goal at this point is to become a board certified specialist in one of the fields of veterinary medicine, such as cardiology or ophthalmology … And then if I can become board certified in one of those specialty fields, I’m hoping that I can get my foot in the door and collaborate with some of the zoos in the area where I work.”

After graduation, Brown plans to complete a small animal medicine internship and residency at a referral clinic in Maryland.

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