Local graduates recall enriching experiences at ECSU

·4 min read

May 16—WILLIMANTIC — As the Class of 2021 basked in the warm glow from the overhead sun Saturday, Eastern Connecticut State University graduates were reminded of three key points: dream big, be resilient, and serve others.

Around 740 undergraduate students in black caps and gowns and hundreds of their friends and family members socially distanced on the athletic field at Windham Technical High School for their in-person graduation, for which two ceremonies of 370 students apiece were held.

For many of the graduates, their senior year was drastically altered by the novel coronavirus pandemic. Classes were online, students were remote, and nothing went according to plan.

Michael Vesci of Manchester, who finished his bachelor's degree in sports management in the winter, said the past year has been a lot of figuring out what comes next.

Covid changed everything, and while it may have not been the senior year he imagined, but he took it in stride, focusing on making the most out of every moment.

The pandemic changed things, including him losing out on a professional development program with the Hartford Yard Goats, but it also provided Vesci with some new opportunities. After finishing his degree in December, he started his master's, also in sports management, at Southern Connecticut State University.

"Life isn't linear and you got to just be able to make the most of whatever moment you get. And so, I just took advantage of whatever came about during this past year," he said. "I know some things aren't going to be easy with COVID going on and everything, so I'm just figuring out what I can do to stay active either in the community or professionally."

Tyler Madden of Manchester, who majored in communications, said this past year had been an adjustment, with some classes being online while others were in person, but he appreciated Eastern's commitment to some semblance of normalcy, saying the university pushed to have many students on-campus.

For Madden, he'll miss most the community at Eastern, describing it as something special and filled with people who want to see the students succeed but is grateful he and his classmates can graduate together.

"We all came in here together, most of us, and we're going to go out the same way we did. We went through a lot of things. COVID-19 was something that none of us ever expected we're going to have to deal with, but we battled in the community, we came together, and we're able to celebrate today. That's what today is about," he said.

Joyce Figueroa of Vernon, who got a bachelor's degree in English, added that she was surprised that everyone was able to graduate together but is immensely thankful the staff were able to make that happen.

She had nothing but praise as she detailed her last four years at Eastern. She gushed over the small class sizes, accessible teachers, and unique opportunities, such as a five-week global field course in Italy she participated in where she took creative writing.

As Figueroa graduates, she recalled that her senior year was one no one predicted.

"No one could have expected the pandemic or what that would have entailed. There were a lot of things that I was looking forward that unfortunately, I didn't get to do, but I think Eastern did a really great job of giving us the best experience that they could have for senior year," she said.

For Christina Langton of Bolton, who earned a bachelor's degree in health sciences, graduation meant the opportunity to be surrounded by all her friends, something the Class of 2020 didn't get the chance to do last year.

"It just means a lot that I can be here with all my friends and be in person. Just nice to get to celebrate the past few years of hard work," Langton said.

Langton transferred to Eastern her sophomore year after realizing her the nursing program at Curry College in Massachusetts wasn't the right fit.

She looks back on the past three years at Eastern fondly and recalls some of her favorite memories as being on the soccer team.

Unlike some of her friends, Langton decided to play her senior year and enjoyed getting to finish out her final year on the soccer field for a couple of games.

And as she heads into the world, Langton will remember all that Eastern has taught her.

"I've learned not to take things for granted since I never thought I would go to Eastern. I live so close down the road and only came on the campus my sophomore year. I realized I was wrong to think I didn't want to go here because I like fell in love with it," she said.

For news around JI Land, follow Jessica Lerner on Twitter: @JessLerner.

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