The class of 2020 could never have imagined, in a million years, that they’d be graduating in the midst of a global pandemic. Their senior springs were abruptly cancelled, classes moved online, and they lost the chance to properly say goodbye to their undergraduate experiences. There’s no way around it: It sucks.
Meanwhile, for the second year in a row, Alma ran a college ambassador program, where a diverse group of Jewish college students from around the world came together to serve as a brain trust for Alma, write for us, and get a peek behind the curtain of how a digital media publication functions. On the eve of their graduation, we asked the seniors in our program to share some feelings with us about their college experience as a whole and graduating right now. Here’s what they had to say.
Maddy Albert, Colby College Class of 2020
“Feeling somewhat isolated during my freshman orientation week at college, I decided to attend an event for first years in Colby’s Hillel room. I was greeted by a swarm of people crowded into the multicultural center’s cozy, couch-filled room, painting mezuzahs and eating sushi. Although it was nearly impossible to hear anyone, I immediately felt at home amongst the buzzing and laughter and warmth. A classmate who became one of my best friends remembers me saying in awe, ‘Everyone here is so nice,’ as if I had not met any kind people before that. As many of us know, Jewish community is so much more than being nice. I met many other good people at my rural New England college, but I would not have made it through without the family I found at Hillel. Finding your people is integral to one’s college experiences, and I am so grateful that along with the English department, writing center, a capella, and other activities, I found a vibrant and cohesive Jewish community in college.”
Jenna Glazier, Emerson College Class of 2020
“College taught me about sisterhood. About finding my voice, understanding that voice, and using it to make some sort of dent in the world. I learned about the trials and tribulations of making art and how absolutely out of this world it is when you get it ‘right.’ College put me through some of the hardest situations, but it proved to me that I only grow stronger when I live through each of them. This is not the way I imagined graduating, but the last four years were better than I could have ever imagined. So, I guess it’s like a fair trade off, right? LML Alpha Epsilon Phi Beta Alpha Chapter Congrats to c/o 2020!”
Margot Mitchell-Nockowitz, Tufts Class of 2020
“Senior year at Tufts was really where I started to understand my purpose as a young adult. I think that freshmen through junior year can often feel like a homogenized sprint to this ambiguous finish line — adult life — that you never fully feel prepared for no matter how many academic achievements you accomplish or how many internships you score, or how many connections you make with others. That’s what it felt like for me until I started reflecting inward and working on myself, and really spending time to think about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life in my senior year. College taught me drive, it taught me self sufficiency, it taught me professionalism. It taught me how to fail. It was a crash course in falling and getting back on the horse, and I think — in light of how my senior year ended and what I had lost in the wake of quarantine — that that’s really all that life is, too: falling and getting back on the horse.”
Rebecca Oestreicher, Stony Brook University Class of 2020
“I will be graduating this month from Stony Brook University with a Bachelors in political science. My college experience has definitely been bittersweet. I have faced many challenges, from bad roommates to discriminatory professors, but also received a great education, made some amazing friends, and really connected with my Jewish identity. Connecting with the Jewish community on my campus, specifically through Hillel, has been one of the best things about my time at Stony Brook. This fall, I will be attending UConn School of Law and I am excited for the new opportunities and challenges. I am more grateful than ever for my Jewish community to fall back on during this time, and look forward to forming a new one at UConn. For Jews, life has never been easy, especially now. But, if life were too easy, it would just be boring. Congratulations to the Class of 2020, it hasn’t always been smooth, but boy, has it been a ride.”
Julia Pappo, University of Toronto Class of 2020
“Ending my undergraduate experience online, in the middle of a pandemic, is not what I anticipated. I never would have thought I’d be graduating at a worse time than 2008. But the entire course of my degree has been about rolling with the punches, and I don’t think my 17-year-old self would have seen anything from the past few years coming. From moving to New York to study film at NYU to moving back home to Toronto and majoring in History at U of T, college for me has been all about being adaptable, which is turning out to be the most valuable skill I’ve learned (despite the dozens of seminars designed to make me a more critical thinker and better writer). If anything, I feel like this experience is allowing me to be more gentle with myself when it comes to next steps. I still feel the pressure to apply to grad school, land a job in my field, etc. etc., but I think I’m realizing, along with everyone around me, that it’s okay to slow down and take our time.”
Deborah Pekar, Western University Class of 2020
“It’s a surreal experience to be graduating from university in the midst of a global pandemic. As the first in my family to receive a university diploma, it’s disheartening to imagine my immigrant parents not being able to cheer me on at a physical grad. University for me was an incredible experience. I learned a lot not only academically but about myself, too. Moving out of my parents house at 17 into a completely new town was scary but exciting and being home (and under lockdown) makes me wish I was back in good ole London, Ontario (a statement I NEVER thought I’d say). To all you upcoming freshman or those who just finished their freshman year, the advice I have for you is to keep up with your studies but also don’t take life so seriously. You’re only young for so long and you just can’t get away with majority of the stuff you are able to do in college in real life. So go to that day party that starts at 9 a.m. Oh, and make friends in your classes, you never know who will become your life long friend. Four years may seem long, but it’ll be over in a second, take it all in and enjoy every moment of it!”
Natalie Rochman, University of Michigan Class of 2020
“If someone tells me one more time how resilient or strong I am for graduating during a pandemic, I might lose it. What other choice was there? I will not let my previous four years of hard work and late nights and hangovers and game days be overshadowed because of what happened in the last two months of college. My time at the University of Michigan was truly amazing. I met some of my best friends for life; I learned more about my own Judaism; I became a leader. And then stupid COVID-19 had to come and take away the bittersweet ending I thought I needed in order to say a proper goodbye. And in some ways, it has. I didn’t get to walk onto the field of the Big House with my friends or go one last time to Skeeps. But I did get a very meaningful, personal Zoom-emncement with my close friends. Plus, now I have an excuse as to why I’m unemployed. What is happening now does not negate all of the amazing, crazy, and (more often than not) stupid experiences I had in college, it merely is another one for the books. Oh yeah… Forever Go Blue!”
Noa Rubin, Barnard Class of 2020
“The best thing about college was feeling like I lived in a Jewish lab. In such a diverse and robust Jewish community, I felt like I not only found a home, but also a place where I could explore the wealth of American Jewish life. I went to concerts, lectures, and learning sessions while making friends with people from a variety of Jewish backgrounds. I got to build intentional, meaningful relationships with some of the coolest Jews I’ve ever known and learn to share and build pluralistic space. I went to Israel twice with Hillel, deepening my connection and growing my knowledge. Shabbat on campus meant home-cooked meals with my best friends, picnics in Central Park, and dogspotting. I would of course be remiss to not thank the wonderful staff at Columbia/Barnard Hillel for all the coffee dates and lunches, and for always supporting me. My college experience was so special and right now, I’m just so heartbroken it ended; I always knew leaving was going to be sad, I just didn’t know how sad. Through so many ups and downs, my Jewish community held me, even now, with happy hours, learning, communal gatherings, and regular personal check-ins from friends and mentors. I am thankful and humbled by the strength and resilience of my Jewish communities. Thank you Columbia, Barnard, and List College for being a community worth missing.”
Lilli Sher, Ohio University Class of 2020
“Honestly, I had a really difficult time dealing with how senior year ended. The lack of closure, the memories that never came into fruition, and the goodbyes I didn’t get to say, all coupled with the deep fear and anxiety brought upon by a global pandemic, was incredibly hard to deal with all at once. What helped me get through it, though, were the various communities that I belong to: the Jewish community (special s/o to Hillel at Ohio University!), my friends, the class of 2020 across the country that is dealing with particular emotions and experiences, and the community at Alma. In addition to the anxiety, uncertainty, and sadness that marks this time, I feel heightened gratitude for community, even as we can’t gather in person.”
Mathilda Silverstein, UC Davis Class of 2020
“My past four years at UC Davis have been a-moo-zing. I’ve become a stereotype of a fiery university-going jewess — directing and arranging for my all-female a cappella group, The Spokes, making waves with my fantastic J Street U chapter, and reading only classic feminist literature for my Gender Studies BA. I was deathly homesick for two years for my mother’s matzah ball soup, had a late-in-life bat mitzvah, and hosted a Jewish culture show called “How You Jewin’?” on my campus’ radio station. This was not was how I i-moo-gined it to end, but nonetheless, go Aggies!”
Barrie Skalsky, University of Houston Class of 2020
“As you can imagine, I didn’t anticipate that my last few weeks of senior year would be spent bouncing between my parent’s house and my apartment trying to find the strongest wifi signal for my countless hours of Zoom calls. The last four years at the University of Houston haven’t been easy. There have been plenty of peaks and valleys and enough breakdowns about if I’ll pass a quiz to go around. I can’t exactly remember what I thought college was going to be like when I started, but I’m not sure that 18-year-old me had even the slightest idea about what was coming. Regardless of my expectations, I’ve spent the past four years learning, traveling, and growing and I am really proud of everything that I have accomplished and I can’t wait to see what is next… hopefully a job!”
Abigayle Stoetzer, Temple University Class of 2020
“I still have not fully processed that I will not be physically graduating and celebrating my achievements at Temple University as a Vocal Performance student, but I am still forever grateful for Temple, all of the opportunities they’ve given me, and the amazing students and professors I’ve met along my journey. I’m also thankful to Alma for being my ‘guiding Jewish light’ throughout my college experience and for contributing to the making of a fabulous Jewess (me) who always points out the Jewish characters in movies (I don’t think my friends are annoyed with me… yet?).”
Shira Tall, University of Connecticut Class of 2020
“To the class of 2020, mazel tov. You will forever be in our hearts as the resilient class that rose above these circumstances and put others’ safety ahead of themselves. In reflecting upon what would have been my graduation this weekend, here are 10 pieces of advice I have to offer:
- Never trust an umbrella. Invest in rain boots and a rain jacket.
- False eyelashes make all the difference.
- Don’t be sad because sad spelled backwards is das and das not good.
- Wooden spoons will mold when you leave them in a dishwasher for too long.
- Eggs definitely don’t know they’re about to become an egg wash.
- Remember others see the title of the Word Documents you submit to them.
- The early bird catches the worm but the night owl catches the bird that catches the worm. And finishes their assignments on time.
- If your car ever gets stuck in the snow, a baking sheet can be used as an emergency shovel.
- Always see if you can get a book from the library for free before buying or renting it.
- Time, friends, and family are three things that become more valuable the older you get. Hold onto your friends, call your family, cherish the little moments, be the best version of yourself you can be.”
We would love to hear from you about your own experience graduating right now, as a Jewish college student. Share your story on Instagram using #AlmaGrad2020.