Before commencing something new, there’s the last time you do something familiar, something comforting. But what if you didn’t know the last time had already happened and you didn’t get a chance to say goodbye? That was the sudden reality for many 2020 Cardinal graduates.
While typical graduations elicit moments of deep reflection, the scurry to pivot to an online finish to the spring semester due to COVID-19 concerns added a new layer of pondering for the Class of 2020. UofL Magazine asked a few graduates to look back on their campus experiences and look forward to how the university has prepared them for their futures, launched during the pandemic’s unsettling times.
For communication graduate Keionna Bailey, who as a part of Generation Z says she is unfazed by digital technology, the switch to online instruction after spring break seemed natural, even advantageous, until the finality of the semester’s experiences sank into her psyche.
For Phillip Cupp, his UofL research and business experiences enabled him not only to achieve an MBA in entrepreneurship but also to launch a biotechnology startup with some classmates and to compete in a prestigious national competition for that venture this year.
Reagan Miller, who earned her undergraduate degree in political science, reached back into her freshman-year journal to share her initial excitement and reviewed some personal top campus highlights — from the raiseRED fundraising marathon to her selection as homecoming queen.
Hope pulls people through difficult times and makes us stronger, Donghang Zhang acknowledged, as he adjusted to seeing clients online and to dwindling in-person interactions with professors and fellow Kent School of Social Work students seeking the master of science in social work and working in the couple and family therapy program.
All candidly and eloquently shared in their own words their pride, challenges and hopes – the pluses and minuses in the face of an uncertain world. Here are their reflections.
The mid-semester switch to online was more difficult for me emotionally rather than logistically. I am a part of Generation Z. Online communication and coursework came very naturally for me. So when it became the new normal, I felt right at home. Working remotely was advantageous because it allowed me to accomplish more in a shorter period of time.
However, your last semester of college is a different type of experience. Everything I did this year, this semester, was always going to be my last time experiencing it as a student. My last time walking through campus, my last time attending student events and my last time attending class. I wish I would have cherished my time and the atmosphere on campus more prior to spring break.
When commencement was [postponed], I was heartbroken. Even though my degree was still confirmed, it didn’t feel right without the ceremony. Everyone continued to ask me what it felt like to graduate college, and I could never formulate an answer because it didn’t feel like a monumental accomplishment, just an ordinary day in the year. Commencement was supposed to signify my beginning and my start in life, but with its [postponement] it felt like the end.
Graduating during the spring semester was obviously something I had looked forward to for years — walking across the stage, celebrating Derby season and enjoying the weather. I had a positive outlook for my life after graduation because everything was in place and going according to my four-year plan.
Graduation during a global pandemic, however, was not a part of that plan. I was someone who had spent all of college coordinating this moment and in the blink of an eye it was all changing. I had a job lined up and a new apartment awaiting me. I was ready. But with the world on pause, it was as if my plan was irrelevant in the larger scheme of life. It was driving me crazy that no one was certain of anything. It made preparation even harder, because no one knew what would happen next.
My biggest fear was entering a recession and losing my job. For a few weeks, that nightmare came true. I lost my job before I had even started. Welcome to adulthood, right? It was almost impossible to remain positive and grateful for anything when my life felt as though it was in shambles. It took me a while to get over the reality of it all and accept the situation for what it was.
Ironically enough, the day I was supposed to start the job I had lost, I received a call that they were hiring me back. In that moment, the ceremony didn’t matter anymore because I realized that my success was never going to be measured by a 10-second spotlight on a stage in the YUM! Center. Starting my career, doing what I loved with people who valued my input was my success. I only wish the rest of my graduating class the same prosperity.
Reflection is a practice that many fail to do enough. We become so busy and inundated with the monotony or bombardment of life that taking a step back and reflecting on one’s experience can be transformative. When looking back at my journey over the past 20 months, I can honestly say that completing my MBA in entrepreneurship at the University of Louisville has positively altered the trajectory of my life.
From economics to corporate strategy classes, the curriculum was challenging, engaging and has given me a solid foundation to build upon for the rest of my career. About this time last year, many classmates and I took an unforgettable trip throughout China and Taiwan as a part of our global learning experience. Throughout the program, our cohort spent a great deal of time together and many of these friendships continue to grow even after graduation.
Beyond the classroom, this program has given me the opportunity to work at the UofL Office of Research and Innovation along with Louisville Entrepreneurship Acceleration Partnership (LEAP). Through this experience, I’ve had the privilege of assisting in the commercialization of novel patented technologies developed at the university and to work with such supportive staff at the Commercialization EPIcenter. I’ve also gotten to work with multiple entrepreneurs-in-residence, including Josh Nickols and Jeff Cummins, who have taken me under their wing and taught me real-world lessons about life as an entrepreneur and what’s necessary to build a successful, scalable business.
My classmates, Chiraag Bhimani and Ashley Krems, and I have even been able to form a biotechnology startup, RIZIN Technologies, utilizing a patented breath-detection technology developed at UofL to detect controlled substances. We are thrilled to have won funding for our venture at multiple MBA competitions. Through the guidance of [professors] Suzanne Bergmeister and Mary Topolsky, one of the most valuable skills I gained throughout these experiences is becoming a more effective and compelling communicator. COVID-19 has put somewhat of a damper on our momentum, but we continue to remain agile through these unprecedented times.
Recently, we were invited to compete in the Rice Business Plan Competition, which is one of the most prestigious graduate-level business plan competitions in the world, as it has more than 400 applicants. We will be competing against 41 other teams for awards and prizes valued at $1.5 million. Regardless of our performance at this competition, Ashley and Chiraag have taught me a great deal about diligence, loyalty and resilience throughout the ups and downs of entrepreneurship. I’m honored to work with them and consider them lifelong friends.
Abraham Lincoln stated, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” Reflecting on the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I’m beyond grateful to have completed my MBA at the University of Louisville. I’m so thankful for the faculty, staff and mentors who have invested in me. The education, experience and friendships fostered throughout my time here are worth infinitely more than any dollar amount. From this foundation, I look forward to giving back and being a part of envisioning and creating a beautiful, vibrant future.
I see it all over yard signs, Facebook and text messages: “We support the graduating class of 2020!” With my graduation ceremony canceled and final days on campus cut short, I feel comforted each time a community member reaches out to me. However, rather than mourning the effects of COVID-19 on my senior year, I’m filled with gratitude for the most beautiful 3.5 years of my life — my days at the University of Louisville.
What makes my UofL journey so beautiful is not a record of perfect days. In fact, my first semester began with a change our administration, a budget shortfall and questions about our accreditation. These times were not glamorous, but they tell the story of UofL’s resilience.
As a Cardinal Ambassador, I watched my supervisor Tammy Lawson scream and shout at every football and basketball game, never wavering in her Cardinal spirit. On the Student Orientation Staff, my bosses Toree Parrish, Melissa Eversole and Shannon Beck welcomed incoming students with endless resources for academic support, financial support and campus involvement.
My professors committed every ounce of their energy to student success both in and out of the classroom, and I owe every academic achievement to Julie Bunck, Jasmine Farrier, V. Adams, Khaldoun Almousily and others.
My UofL pride reached its pinnacle during my junior year when I sat on the lawn of Grawemeyer Hall and watched the most powerful, unstoppable woman become inaugurated as our president: Neeli Bendapudi. She is the silver lining the UofL family has worked for so long to find, and she dedicates each day to making students feel valuable, capable and strong.
This time of social distancing allows me to reflect on my time as a student and I remember moments I wish I could have lived in forever: Cheering on the Cardinals when our campus hosted ESPN GameDay, sprinting into the arms of 100 empowering women on my first sorority bid day, celebrating with friends and family after being named the 2020-21 Homecoming Queen, running into a fellow Cardinal during my study abroad semester in Morocco and holding up raiseRED’s grand total of $690,921.70 for UofL’s Pediatric Oncology and Hematology Clinic. These incredible moments, and several others, far outweigh any disappointment of missing my final semester.
Even in the face of adversity, I never questioned that UofL was exactly where I needed to be. UofL has repeatedly persevered through obstacles and grown stronger, and I am confident its resilience will carry the Cardinal Family through this time of COVID-19 seamlessly. To wrap up my thoughts, I’ve included an excerpt from a journal that I kept during my freshman year of college:
“This first year at UofL has given me nothing but light. Each morning I wake up to adventures I could never predict with people I’ll never deserve. The fire I see in these people is unreal – it burns so ardently, so selflessly. Through them I have found courage, confidence, diligence and ambition.”
From my first day to my last, I’m proud to be a Louisville Cardinal!
The spread of COVID-19 has brought uncertainties and challenges to people around the world. Fear floods the internet with much information that causes chaos, which makes us feel overwhelmed. I do not feel panic from anything that has changed since the virus outbreak. However, I was tired of the boring daily routine in my life — wake up, attend online classes and be limited at home to doing my assignments and research work. One of the challenges for me was recognizing that I slowly lost my motivation to complete my assignments. I felt difficultly concentrating on studying and lost interaction with other cohort classmates, clients and professors. I also realized that I was ending my study and practicum with no chances to say goodbye to my school experience and people with whom I worked. Due to the dwindling frequency of social participation, isolation and depression haunted me.
To adjust to challenges and difficulties, I made some changes to my life. First, I understand feeling anxious and depressed is normal. I practice meditation regularly and maintain a social connection with people. Second, I created a clean, warm spot to study that helps me stay focused. I pay attention to getting organized through planning my schedule and dealing with any problems in advance. For example, if I did not complete the assignment, I would contact my professor for an extension of the due date.
I do my own part and believe this unique time gives me a chance to take a breather. Without the treks to class and my practicum site, I take advantage of the downtime to read books and therapy videos that have been stored in my bookshelf and computers for a long time. I have spent much time inside, so I watch my diet and step outside around my neighborhood to relax and regain my focus — jogging and playing skateboard.
I also suggested creating a texting group for my cohort classmates so we could connect with and ask help or share information from each other despite self-quarantine at home and social distancing. I also sought ways of expanding social participation — continuing to see clients online and joining a Chinese psychological assistance hotline program as a volunteer. This year is tough for the Class of 2020. I appreciate my MSSW (master of science in social work) and CFT (couple and family therapy) program leaders who disseminated timely information and support. I feel touched that my CFT program faculty brought a cake and greeting card to each student’s house in person while maintaining a social distance.
I am proud to be a graduate in this Class of 2020 since I am welcomed and valued by people in the community! I believe the future is uncertain going forward, but hope pulls us through these difficult times. We are one world to fight together and become stronger.
The Class of 2020 will have a chance to participate in a formal in-person ceremony, delayed until December for a safer time to gather. In the meantime, their accomplishments were honored virtually on the original date, May 9, with a digital celebration at hereandbeyond2020.com.
The site includes stories and photos from our graduates, who showed off their own celebrations. Graduates could take a photo with the signature image of The Thinker statue through an augmented reality feature or create a customized Class of 2020 graphic so they could share their names via social media.
UofL representatives and local dignitaries sent special messages, and May 9 was officially proclaimed UofL Graduates 2020 Day in Louisville.
The Class of 2020 also learned the SGA would commission a campus mural commemorating them and that the area in front of the Belknap Academic Building would be renamed the 2020 Quad.
While it wasn’t the graduation they were expecting, our newest alumni still celebrated.