december grads1

The photo pictured above is from a past GU commencement ceremony prior to the start of COVID-19. 

In the midst of a turbulent year, some Gonzaga seniors are set to complete their degree in the next two weeks. Their no-walk graduation experience will be different than years past, reflecting most other events of recent months.

Numerous challenges presented themselves this semester, but the specifics of the college experience have been different for every person, although the staring at screens for several hours a day is something many have grown accustomed to.

The source of much of senior Isabella Braganza's stress came from a heavy workload.

“I’m getting my bachelor's degree in psychology and I took seven classes this semester totaling 19 credits,” said Braganza, who took this additional semester to graduate. “I thought I was supposed to have an easy semester, but then learned in August that I needed six more credits to hit the 128 minimum to graduate.”

All seven of Braganza's classes were over Zoom.

"My voice lesson class had the in-person option once a week, but I chose to do it remotely," Braganza said. "There was one time I went in person, but there were so many people, and even though it was safe, my heart was beating so fast because I wasn’t used to being around people anymore.” 

Due to the Zoom readjustment and taking such a high number of credits, Braganza had to drop her extracurricular activities this semester. She said she had done choir for four years but this last semester was the only semester she did not take it.

Throughout her time at GU she was also involved with the Filipino American Student Union (FASU) and interned at the Office of Health Promotion. 

“I worked briefly at Chipotle, but only for a few hours every other weekend," Braganza said. "That was basically my only source of seeing people, in-person." 

Braganza said the thought of graduating is bitter-sweet. 

“There’s a lot of grief involved, and that’s something I’ve had to deal with,” Braganza said. “The idea that my 22-year-old dream of what my college graduation would look like, most of those things that would have helped me celebrate—such as walking, hanging out with my friends or getting a rose pin at my last choir—did not happen.” 

However, she said she is determined not to let the disappointments dull her excitement for the future. 

“I definitely want to go to graduate school," Braganza said. "I really enjoyed my work with the Office of Health Promotion, so I’m looking for a master’s in public health, which will be pretty important considering the world today. I’m on a path to advocate for the mental health of other Asian Americans."

Another senior Harry Smith, majoring in broadcast and communication studies, did all of his classes remotely from his home in Los Angeles.  

"This was definitely the most stressful semester of my college experience,” Smith said. “I was taking a full 18-credit workload and had to completely change my study habits. I thrive from being in the classroom with my professors and classmates, so I had to work extra hard to be motivated in the virtual setting.” 

Similarly to Braganza, Smith’s interaction with the outside world was rather limited as he wasn't on campus so he couldn't take part in many extracurriculars. 

However, he said that at his job for GU’s marketing and communication department, they were gracious enough to let him continue working from home as a writer, although he was previously a videographer.

“I worked really hard to graduate early, so I was very disappointed when I realized I wasn’t going to have a normal semester,” Smith said. “After an overwhelming and stressful year, I just want to snatch my diploma and dip.”

Grateful for his professors, Smith said these circumstances have not been easy or ideal for anyone but his professors did their best to help their students grow while also being mindful of students' limits. 

“I want to get into video production in LA, but I don’t think there will be much work until the pandemic dies down,” Smith said.

Maggie Randles, a public relations major, took a somewhat different attitude toward her Zoom education.  

“All of my classes were offered online except for my image communication class," Randles said. "Especially once it started to get colder outside, I started to appreciate that aspect of remote learning. My classes were somewhat broad this semester because I’d transferred to GU and missed out on some ethics courses in previous semesters."

Randles said that she came here in the fall of 2018, having previously attended Eastern Washington University.

“My mom ended up getting a job at GU and I thought I should try to apply,” Randles said. “Growing up in Spokane, I never thought GU was even an option but I was super excited to be in a smaller class size. It really helped me stay focused and get to know my professors better.”

Despite feeling rather positively about the change in learning format, she still said this semester was a unique one.

She was unable to fit extracurriculars into her schedule, given the rigor of her six classes.

Randles said she really missed being on campus and not being there in person made it difficult to appreciate GU as a whole. 

“I miss walking into College Hall and feeling like I’m at Hogwarts," Randles said. "I miss running into Jepson with my Starbucks spilling on me while I try to scarf down a muffin without a mask on. It just feels like so long ago that I was studying for finals while sitting in groups on the grass around tons of people. Just some of the normal, everyday things I miss doing make me miss it a lot.”

With an open mind about the future, Randles is ready for new experiences. 

“I’ve been applying for jobs just about everywhere with all kinds of titles,” Randles said. “I think I might stay in Spokane for a year or two and work on building some connections, so if I end up moving somewhere else I’ll feel comfortable knowing I can come home with a good background here.”

As the year comes to a close and a new one is on the horizon, these December graduates are beginning to map out their career paths and lives, wherever it may take them.

“It feels like I have been in school for such a long time, and the time it took me to find my academic path was stressful and always unpredictable," Randles said. "I really just feel excited about graduating. I’ve been so blessed to receive my education here, but there comes a point where it feels like I’ve done the work and I really want to prove myself.”

Alex Bhayani is a staff writer.

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