When the Class of 2020 first arrived on the University of Louisville campus in the fall of 2016, the most popular app was Pokemon GO and the U.S. Presidential campaign was nearing the finish line. On Saturday, May 9, those Cardinals will officially earn their degrees in the middle of a global pandemic, without the traditional pomp and circumstance.
These are unprecedented times, indeed. Many of us haven’t left the house or seen our friends in literal weeks. The economy has tanked. We have no idea how long it will be until things start to get back to normal again and, when they do, how that “normal” will be defined.
No doubt celebrating in such an environment is a challenge, but we asked our graduates to share their thoughts and accomplishments so that we can at least try our best to do so virtually.
Here’s what we’ve learned from collecting such feedback for this sort of digital time capsule, if you will. Although many of them are admittedly (justifiably) sad that a formal ceremony isn’t happening this spring, our graduates are excited nonetheless. They’re resilient and gritty. Many of them are first-generation college students who are expressively proud of what they accomplished. They’re optimistic about their future, no matter how uncertain things may be right now. They’re ready to put their heads down and do the work and chase their dreams.
Here’s what some of our grads had to say about their time at UofL, their current circumstances, and what we can expect from them next (hint: big things).
Ogechukwu Tabugbo, who is receiving a bachelor’s degree in French with a minor in Pan African Studies, reflects on how she’s come to earn a degree.
“I’m proud of all the accomplishments that I’ve made here at UofL and I will continue to keep my head held high,” she said.
Brooke Shields, a School of Nursing graduate, said she is sad to be missing out on “senior things,” and is scared about the uncertainty of the coronavirus as she enters into the nursing profession. However, that hasn’t diminished this moment for her.
“I had a lot of my lasts without realizing it. That’s the really sad part about it is I didn’t get to see my friends or graduate with them,” she said. “[But] I’m so excited to be graduating from UofL because it’s a big accomplishment.”
Bayley Amburgey is graduating magna cum laude with a degree in global politics and international relations. Right now, she feels a tremendous amount of pride, both for herself and her classmates.
“I’m proud of all the accomplishments I’ve been able to make at UofL. I have learned and grown so much over the past four years and, to be honest, I’m an entirely different person,” she said. “Not only am I proud of myself, but I’m so proud of my classmates. It’s been amazing to watch their passion and their work. Regardless of the circumstances, we still made it.”
Robert Carter is earning his master’s degree from the Kent School of Social Work at age 48 and with a full-time job and a family at home. It was difficult, he admits, but he was able to do it after overcoming hurdles of self-doubt.
“I always felt that my life was already set for me. My way of thinking was that I had to give up my future so that my children would have one. Changing my way of thinking, I realized that the best way to groom my children into prominent figures in today’s society was to lead by example. I wanted to show them that regardless of a person’s circumstances or choices, as long as they believed in themselves and their abilities, he or she could achieve greatness,” Carter said.
Despite having to navigate days in which he did not think he could finish his degree, Carter calls his time at UofL “one of the greatest experiences of his life.”
“I’ve shared my life stories, and I’ve built healthy relationships, I’ve even made a few people laugh along on my journey,” he said. “But the best thing of it all, I’ve obtained everything I could to make a positive change for at least one person it this world – my way of giving back and promoting good humanity.”
Sherrika Denise Howell, who is receiving her bachelor of science degree, is one of those first-generation graduates.
“I will be forever grateful for my time here at the university – the people I have met, the lessons I have learned, and everything in between,” she said. “Though my commencement ceremony isn’t until December, I still have an amazing accomplishment to celebrate. I have worked harder than I ever have before to complete this degree. I have grown both as a person and as a student. I am a proud UofL alumna.”
Howell will spend the summer studying for the MCAT to achieve her next goal: medical school.
Joey Breckenridge, who is earning his degree in bioengineering, also reflects on his growth while attending UofL.
“It’s really easy to get discouraged in college and the biggest thing to remember is to keep pushing,” he said. “The past four years of my life have changed me for the better in ways I could never imagine. I’m thankful for all the help that’s [gotten] me this far, all the memories I’ve made, all the knowledge I’ve gained, all the lessons I’ve learned, and all the people I’ve formed bonds with along the way.”
Breckenridge also plans to continue his education, with a goal of earning a master’s degree in bioengineering at UofL.
We also received a bevy of anonymous comments, with graduates talking about their “indescribable opportunities.” Here’s a sampling:
- “Although this chapter didn’t end the way we had planned, we still persevered. I met some incredible people and expanded my heart in ways unimaginable.”
- “I have had an amazing four years full of unforgettable experiences and even more unforgettable people. I hope that in my time here, I have had half the impact on our campus community as it has had on me.”
- “When I started this journey, I had a dream. I was confident that UofL could lay the foundation to help me reach my goals. After listening to a talk on social workers being superheroes, they asked us to write down our superpower on this poster. I wrote ‘Resilience.’ As I reflect on everything I’ve overcome, I know this couldn’t be more true.”
Speaking of resilience, graduating law student Alixis Russell perhaps sums up the spring Class of 2020’s experience best: “This has been a lesson in resilience and flexibility. I’m optimistic for the future. That optimism just looks different now.”