The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Class of 2024 appreciates graduation experience

After ceremonies across the country were canceled in 2020, members of the class of 2024 are looking forward to finally crossing the stage the traditional way.
Emily Nyberg
Anna Dargan poses for a portrait at the Old Capitol building in Iowa City on Monday, April 29, 2024.

Exactly four years after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools, stores, sporting arenas, and more, the University of Iowa class of 2024 will walk at graduation this week.

For many members of the class of 2024 at the UI and across the country, the pandemic meant the loss of the end of their senior year of high school, including some of the most anticipated events, like graduation and prom.

When the class of 2024 started its academic journey at the UI, it comprised 4,530 students, which was 456 fewer than the admitted class of 2023 due to COVID-19. The average GPA was 3.78, making it the most academically accomplished class in university history at the time.

The COVID-19 pandemic canceled the end of senior years across the country, leaving students to graduate with drive-through and virtual graduations.

This was the case for Samantha Mayer, a UI fourth-year student majoring in theater and English. Mayer, originally from Illinois, was rehearsing for her high school senior year spring musical when the pandemic hit. The abrupt end to Mayer’s senior year of high school meant a multitude of losses, including performances, award ceremonies, and a normal graduation.

“We had a drive-through graduation instead of a normal graduation, where all our teachers parked in the parking lot and then you could drive through and wait for them to say goodbye,” Mayer said. “And then you went home to go watch a recorded ceremony, which I sang the national anthem for, but it’s just like me singing in an empty room in my cap and gown.”

The beginning of Mayer’s experience at the UI as a first-year in the fall of 2020 was also unusual, she said. All her classes except one were held online. Despite living among other students in Burge Residence Hall, she did not have a chance to interact with many people on campus.

“I think that as a theater major, especially, that’s so odd because your whole major is based around performing in front of people and being in a room with people to give our performance, and when you’re not able to do that or practice that was very, very odd,” Mayer said.

One of the most difficult things for Mayer was participating in acting classes over Zoom, which were required in her first year. She was able to perform in an in-person show in spring 2021, but only in front of around 30 fully masked and socially distanced audience members.

“I was wearing a mask while performing, and then all of our audience members had to be masked because well. It was very odd,” Mayer said. “They wouldn’t let our director up on the stage near us because of numbers-wise, how close people were.”

Mayer participated in various choir performances, which were also unusual due to COVID-19 safety procedures. If she and her choir sang in an indoor space, they were only allowed to sing in that space for 30 minutes before leaving it to air out for another 30 minutes.

Looking back, Mayer said it feels like an out-of-body experience when she reflects on her senior year of high school and first year of college.

“I really don’t feel connected to the person that I was freshman year,” she said. “I know it was me. I know [those were] things I did. I can remember doing those things. But I can’t say that I have super fond memories associated with COVID.”

Describing herself as a social and extroverted person, Mayer said it was difficult not being able to perform and connect with other people. She remembers it was hard to find her core friends at the UI initially, especially because she lived in a single dorm and there were no OnIowa! or welcome week events to attend.

“I was only allowed to have one person in my room at a time,” she said. “So there was really no ability to socialize unless it was virtually until I got into a show, and that was in my last two months of my freshman year of college.”

Those friendships did come, but even the beginning of her second year of college, which was fully in-person, still did not feel completely normal.

“I did find my people here and there and I definitely do still have friends from freshman year for sure. But I remember walking into the theater and English department[s] once I started my sophomore at university, and it was an odd experience of like, I felt like no one knew who each other was and I felt like kind of starting from ground zero,” Mayer said.

As graduation creeps ever closer, she said part of her does not believe it will happen.

“I still pinch myself a little bit every day with it because it’s what I expected to happen my senior year of high school. I think I’ll believe it when I see it when I actually get to walk across the stage,” Mayer said.

The loss of her high school graduation has made Mayer appreciate her spring 2024 college graduation even more, she said. Being a double major, Mayer said she has told her family that she wants to attend every ceremony she is invited to to make up for the experience she lost in high school.

Overall, Mayer said she thinks losing her high school graduation has made her more appreciative of the experiences she has had at the UI and her upcoming graduation ceremonies.

“I think that every senior graduating this year feels an extra sense of gratitude for being able to finally get those moments,” Mayer said.

This desire to soak up every moment is not only shared by Mayer. Felipe Pedraza is a UI fourth-year business analytics and marketing research international student and member of the Iowa men’s golf team. He said he looks forward to spending key moments with friends and family before entering the workforce.

Pedraza, originally from Lima, Peru, actually graduated from high school in December 2019 due to the academic calendar in the country. Normally, graduates in Peru would have January to July to spend with family and friends before going to college. However, that was taken away by COVID-19 for Pedraza.

“For me, I got to enjoy January, a little bit of February, I still was playing golf and then everything shut down. So I still look back and I don’t know if it’s thinking the time went too fast, but since I never got to have that proper closure, I might be a little bit resentful of COVID taking that time away from me,” Pedraza said.

Pedraza started his education at the UI online from Peru in the fall of 2020. Up until that point, he had never taken an online class, and it was difficult for him to form real interactions with other people.

“I’ve been with the same class since kindergarten and I had the same friends for 12 years, so I never really had to put effort into meeting new people or making new friends and … it was hard at the beginning, but thankfully I had my teammates that were kind of automatically my friends from the get-go,” Pedraza said.

Looking back, Pedraza said he is shocked by how fast time has moved, adding that he sometimes still feels stuck in 2020 and still thinks about the time he lost with his friends in Peru.

“A lot of people that I graduated with, I haven’t seen in four years,” he said. “It’s kind of crazy to think that it’s gone so fast, but that’s only when I think about my life in Peru. Then I think about my life in the U.S. and all the people I met, all the relationships I made, and that makes me feel a little bit better because I’ve made the most out of my time here. So in that regard, I have no regrets.”

As for what this graduation means to him, Pedraza said he is thankful that he gets to graduate alongside his friends and loved ones, and has a chance to spend the time post-graduation with the people he met and formed connections with in Iowa.

“I’m going to try to enjoy it as much as possible just because I know how much I wish I would have had that time back right after high school before college,” he said.

Anna Dargan, a UI fourth-year finance student, also started her college experience online like Pedraza. Dargan’s Chicago high school had a makeshift graduation in July 2020, but it left her feeling disoriented.

“It was just really strange because depending on people’s family situations, some people needed to be more careful, and I was one of those people,” Dargan said. “… So it felt so anonymous in a way because there was no one in the auditorium when we were walking across the stage, and it was just like in and out.”

Dargan began classes online with the UI in the fall of 2020, which she said was a natural transition for her after finishing her senior year online like many other students.

“I was planning on moving into the dorms and then just decided that that wasn’t going to be a great decision for me, so I stayed home for that entire year,” Dargan said. “It wasn’t fun, obviously, but through talking to other people that did come for their freshman year, it sounds like it was kind of just a lose-lose situation.”

When Dargan moved to Iowa City in the fall of 2021, she said it was a bit difficult to make friends and socialize, with there being a definite “learning curve” for her.

“It felt like people had kind of already made their little cliques and found their people and I hadn’t obviously since I wasn’t here, so it was a little bit harder,” Dargan said. “… I never had just a huge friend group that you make in dorms usually, so it was a little different, but I feel like it kind of made it so that I skipped over the awkward friendships that kind of are just out of convenience.”

While Dargan knows her college experience is slightly different than other students, she looks back on it fondly. She said she is looking forward to graduation, which is a big deal for her family as her brother missed his college graduation in 2020 as well, even if it does not make up for her lost high school experience.

“It doesn’t really make up for it because I feel like high school is the big graduation where it’s such a big social point in your life … but I’m definitely glad that we have a normal college graduation and that everyone can have that experience,” she said.

UI President Barbara Wilson said all students in the class of 2024 went through some really tough times starting college during the pandemic.

“You’ll be able to talk to your children, if you have children someday about ‘I lived through COVID-19,’” she said. “And that’s going to be kind of like I went through the Great Depression … I just think kudos to all of you, because in a way you stepped up.”

COVID-19 in the classroom

Tanya Uden-Holman, associate provost for undergraduate education and dean of the University College, wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan that when the pandemic impacted the UI, the university was prepared for the changes in the curriculum from in-person classes to online instruction.

She said the UI was already a leader in online instruction before the pandemic, which set it up for an easier transition to virtual learning.

“Teaching and learning experts from across campus collaborated with faculty to convert courses for online delivery. Platforms such as the “Keep Learning” and “Keep Teaching” websites were developed to help with the transition. Our ability to execute that change is truly a testament to the talent and dedication of our faculty, our graduate instructors, and our support staff,” she said.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she said, the UI is now more prepared with additional tools and options to support student learning, including the Teach Online website, which offers support for instructors regarding course administration, instructional design, media development, technical support, and exam services.

Uden-Holman added there is now additional flexibility on how the UI delivers some programs and services, such as student orientation programming. Student orientation is now a two-part process, made up of an online Orientation Registration Advising Appointment and an optional in-person Becoming a Hawkeye program day.

“The new process provides incoming students with greater access and support for advising and course registration, while still offering an in-person experience to help students build community and learn about campus before they start in the fall,” she said.

In 2020, UI instructors played a critical role in helping incoming students transition into being members of the Hawkeye community and creating a sense of belonging for them during a period of immense loneliness, Uden-Holman added.

“We had so many instructors teaching online classes who made a special effort to help students feel connected. That care for students and commitment to their success is something we’re proud to say has not changed since the end of the pandemic,” she said.

Overall, Uden-Holman said that it is heartening to look back on what the class of 2024 has achieved since the start of their time at the UI.

“COVID-19 impacted every aspect of society and presented many unique challenges for the university,” she said. “Reflecting on the early days of the pandemic and the months leading up to the fall 2020 semester, it’s inspiring to think about everything we accomplished and the way our community came together.”

More to Discover
About the Contributors
Kate Perez
Kate Perez, Senior Reporter
Kate Perez is a third-year student at the University of Iowa majoring in Journalism and Mass Communication with a minor in English and a Writing Certificate. Prior to her role as a Senior Reporter at The Daily Iowan, Kate was a News Editor, a Digital Producer, and an News Reporter. Outside of The Daily Iowan, Kate has held internships at USA TODAY, Iowa Public Radio, and the Iowa City Press-Citizen.
Emily Nyberg
Emily Nyberg, Visual Editor
Emily Nyberg is a second-year student at the University of Iowa double majoring in Journalism and Cinematic arts. Prior to her role as a Visual Editor, Emily was a Photojournalist, and a News Reporter covering higher education.