Tossing their hats: graduating Blugolds reflect on what was, is and could have been

In lieu of an in-person ceremony, students find different ways to celebrate commencement

More stories from Ta'Leah Van Sistine

Life in the city
December 8, 2021
An email sent to Spring 2020 graduates on Monday said the commencement ceremony originally scheduled to take place on May 23 is currently postponed. The annual graduation slideshow will still be shared on UW-Eau Claire’s social media channels and the web, according to the email.

Photo by Submitted

An email sent to Spring 2020 graduates on Monday said the commencement ceremony originally scheduled to take place on May 23 is currently postponed. The annual graduation slideshow will still be shared on UW-Eau Claire’s social media channels and the web, according to the email.

On the day that UW-Eau Claire would’ve had its 2020 Spring Commencement, Elisabeth Rusch, a fourth-year integrated strategic communication student, said she’ll be on the road — driving to her house to pack up and move out.

Rusch is one of the recipients of this year’s Fulbright Fellowship, which gives her the opportunity to teach English in South Korea. But she said the fellowship has now been rescheduled, since it was originally planned for this summer. 

“I was supposed to leave in July,” Rusch said, “however, that has now been pushed to January, so I hopefully will still be able to go, but until then, I am currently job searching. I’m moving to Virginia Beach for the next month.”

UW-Eau Claire is still doing a virtual version of its annual graduation slideshow on May 23, or what would have been commencement day, according to an email that was sent on Monday. 

The email said graduating students can submit one of their “favorite college highlights and a digital photo” before May 15 in order to be featured in the slideshow. 

Nevertheless, several students like Rusch are celebrating graduation in their own ways.

Makenna Zurbuchen, a fourth-year nursing student, said that nursing graduates normally have a ceremony where special pins are presented to each of them, but she is doing her own version of the tradition.

“I didn’t end up buying a pin,” Zurbuchen said. “I’m just going to use my mom’s pin from when she graduated from Eau Claire in nursing and I’m going to have her pin me.”

Thomas Kunst, a fourth-year creative writing student, said he is going to have his “own little grad party” along with his roommates who are also graduating.

Some Spring 2020 grads have also been using this time to reflect on how COVID-19 impacted their final semester.

Kunst said the transition to online classes gave him an early glimpse of what life would be like once he graduated from UW-Eau Claire, Kunst said.

“Continuing directly to higher education from high school, it’s always been this constant of having education in my life,” Kunst said. “Attending university classes has been something that I’ve loved doing, so I think it’s kind of a weird step to walk away from that.”

Missing two months of spending time with friends and doing all of the typical “lasts” was unfortunate, Rusch said, but she found that her previous years at UW-Eau Claire made up for the experiences that didn’t happen.

“I honestly don’t think there’s anything that could have happened in the last two months that could have made the last four years any better,” Rusch said. “I’ve had just the absolute most incredible four years here, and so I’m just so thankful for it. I don’t even have words to explain just how much my time in Eau Claire has impacted me, how much living in this city and all the people I’ve met have just completely changed my life … I’m so grateful.”

Kayla Black, a fourth-year communication sciences and disorders student, said she wished she would have appreciated her time as an undergrad more, but said she is excited to take graduate courses at UW-Eau Claire in the fall.

“I guess it’s kind of nerve wracking going into the real world,” Black said. “I’ll be continuing my education … but I think Eau Claire really prepares us well for that.”

Despite looming uncertainty over the job market, Carter Rush, a fourth-year political science student, has a job lined up at UW-Stout’s involvement center while he also starts online graduate classes with UW-La Crosse on the day that commencement was supposed to be.

Since Rush will work at universities after graduation and beyond, he said he is slightly concerned about the financial hit institutions are going to take and especially so if classes are online again during the fall semester.

Despite these uncertainties, he said continuing to advise student organizations and students who are looking to get involved on campus is his end goal.

“In high school, I wasn’t really involved in anything,” Rush said. “I didn’t really think of myself as a leader until getting involved in hall council … then I realized, ‘Oh, you can make a difference, no matter your age or your educational background.’ As long as you have a voice, you have an opinion and you can make change.” 

Zurbuchen said she received a job in the neurosciences pediatrics unit at Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire and currently works there as a casual certified nursing assistant. However, because there was a low census (not enough patients and too many nurses and nursing assistants), Zurbuchen said she hasn’t been working there for the past month. 

“I don’t know what it’s going to look like this summer if I’ll be able to start or if it will be pushed back until the census bumps up,” Zurbuchen said. “But I do have the job.”

As parting advice for college students who aren’t graduating this semester, Zurbuchen said it is important to appreciate every moment in life and focus on what is currently happening, rather than what is next. 

“Sometimes I’m like, ‘Oh the next season of my life — the next milestone — I’m going to be happier,’ ” Zurbuchen said. “But just really making sure to enjoy and be present in the season that you’re in. Just don’t take those moments for granted.”

Van Sistine can be reached at [email protected]