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An ‘even sweeter’ graduation

After three daunting semesters riddled with uncertainties imposed by the pandemic, ILR seniors are expressing gratitude.

“This semester has been challenging, but these hardships have made graduation even sweeter. I am very thankful for the time to reflect on my Cornell experience and celebrate with family and friends,” Genavieve Koyn said.

Throughout the pandemic, Koyn documented, as a writer for ILR Communications and Marketing, the experiences of her peers, who continued to innovate, learn and advance ILR’s mission, despite COVID-19. Much of Koyn’s work is included in the school’s 75th anniversary “Our Stories” section.

The ILR Class of 2021 graduates at Schoellkopf Field this weekend. The Ph.D. ceremony will be from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Friday and the ceremony for additional ILR graduate degree recipients will be from 11 a.m. to noon Saturday. ILR undergraduates will share the field with College of Engineering students during the final university ceremony from 4 to 5 p.m. Sunday, wrapping up a senior year that went from strict COVID-19 restrictions to an in-person graduation with family in attendance

Alex Colvin, Ph.D. ’99, the Kenneth F. Kahn ’69 Dean and the Martin F. Scheinman ’75, MS ’76, Professor of Conflict Resolution, said, “This has been a long and challenging year, but it is great to be able to finish it off by celebrating with the Class of 2021 at Schoellkopf Field. This graduating class has endured a lot through the pandemic, but we are so proud of their achievements and accomplishments.”

Mimi Goldberg said, “This semester has definitely been hard -- I never imagined graduating this way and I think it’s been difficult for a lot of people. That being said, I’m really thankful that my parents will be able to see me graduate. It’s a good reminder that all of this is worth it.” 

Goldberg is among 231 candidates for the ILR bachelor’s degree. Other degree candidates are two receiving a doctor of philosophy degree, one receiving a master’s of science degree, 60 receiving a master’s of industrial and labor relations degree and 15 receiving a master’s of professional studies degree.

Lorena Flores acknowledged a senior year quieted by the pandemic, but ending with an unexpected opportunity to celebrate. “I don’t think anyone could’ve predicted that COVID was going to last this long, so it for sure took me by surprise that the senior year experience was taken away. Being able to celebrate with family and friends is like a breath of fresh air. I am so excited to have this time to say goodbye to friends and Cornell.” 

Andres Alvarados said his final three semesters “made me really appreciate doing things in the now, rather than saying, ‘Oh, I'll get to this in a year or two.’ There were a lot of Cornell events I thought I'd be able to do multiple times, but only got to do once, like Slope Day.

“There were also so many people at Cornell who helped me along the way and, for a lot of them, I'll just be able to send them an email to show my gratitude; I'd much prefer doing it in person.

"Thankfully, my parents will be able to see me graduate in person because they were too stubborn to let go of the Airbnb they had booked for graduation weekend. It's nice to have a little bit of normalcy after the long months of COVID.”

Eitan Wolf will complete his senior year in December, but sees value in the way his ILR experience was disrupted by the pandemic.

“After having to leave my study abroad session, and with COVID cases ramping up, I decided to take a leave of absence last fall, rather than return to Ithaca. I was nervous and sad I was missing out on some of the last college experiences with my Cornell friends. 

“However, it ended up being for the best. I was able to get a wonderful internship during the time I was away, and I ended up reconnecting with many of my friends back home in Oregon. This past semester, now that I’m back in Ithaca, I feel like I’ve still gotten to spend a lot of time with the people here, too. So, I really feel like I got the best of both worlds.

“I will absolutely miss everyone next fall, and it will be weird to graduate in December, but I think it’s for the best. It just goes to show that sometimes, the most unexpected choices can lead you to the best results." 

After graduation, some seniors will have cards waiting for them at home; Associate Professor Adam Seth Litwin has continued his tradition of circling back to students he met four years earlier as their Freshman Colloquium adviser. 

Enclosed in the cards will be unopened envelopes. The contents? Those are the “Dear me” letters Litwin assigned students so that they could look on what they had to say about their first weeks on campus and about who they hoped to be at graduation.

“Four years ago, had I asked my students about a pandemic, they would have thought I was asking about the chain of bakery-cafes that sells soups and paninis,” Litwin said. “Now, every member of the Class of 2021 knows the pandemic from Panera. They have lived through a global health crisis, one that’s imparted them with resilience they will carry and share with the world for the rest of their lives.”

This story also appears on the ILR website.
Mary Catt is the ILR School’s communications director.

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