Stepping Up: UConn’s Class of 2018

A view of the Convocation ceremony held on the Student Union Mall on Aug. 22, 2014. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)
The Convocation ceremony for the Class of 2018 was UConn's first candlelight Convocation. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

When this year’s graduating class entered UConn in autumn 2014, a robot made the first-ever landing on a comet orbiting the sun, Ebola was rapidly becoming a global health crisis, and the nation was reeling from a spate of police brutality. Four years later, we have a new president, fundamental shifts in our country’s relationships with its overseas allies, and a new national conversation around racial justice, immigration, and gun violence.

But instead of being overwhelmed, the Class of 2018 has stepped up. They developed as citizens as well as scholars. Social justice activism was a constant during their time at UConn, with students engaging on issues from immigration to gender equality. They marched for science, for women’s rights, for black lives, and for all lives, and they set an example for the nation as being a university that can listen to all views, even unpopular ones.

And when we say this class stepped up, they really did step. This year, the HuskyTHON student-dancers notched a new record, raising $1,021,485 for Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.

Members of the Class of 2018 are an accomplished group academically, and competitive on the national stage. This year, UConn has six winners of National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships, one Goldwater Scholar, one Udall Scholar, one Newman Civic Fellow, one Critical Language Scholar, eight McNair Scholars, and – at press time – one finalist in the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. The graduating class also includes 435 members of the Honors Program, and 24 University Scholars – the highest academic award for UConn undergraduates.

This year has seen a resurgence of the unique UConn tradition of Metanoia. During a Metanoia, the entire university community is asked to intensely investigate and reflect on an issue of critical importance. The first one occurred in 1970 and focused on racial respect. President Herbst called for two Metanoias in the senior year of the Class of 2018; one in the autumn on confronting racism, and another this spring on the environment.

It’s no surprise that climate change is a major theme for the most recent Metanoia, the final one for the Class of 2018. The three warmest years on record globally have all occurred during this class’s tenure, with 2016 as the hottest, followed closely by 2015 as the second warmest and then 2017 as the third, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This class sent several delegates to the 2017 UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany, where they met with their cohorts from many different parts of the world and gained a more nuanced understanding of the challenges we face from both climate change and inequality.

Not everyone went to Europe, but the Class of 2018 is well traveled. There are 734 members of the class who took part in an Education Abroad program in more than 40 countries. Some of their trips were closer to home than others, but no less memorable. 

“The most memorable moment for me was closing out our last marching band show on the field at Fenway Park,” says Alex Tedeschi, a molecular and cell biology major who also plays trombone in the band. And a close second? “Finally moving into the new lab space in the Science and Engineering Building,” Tedeschi says.

When the Class of 2018 began classes in autumn 2014, the area behind Pharmacy and Torrey Life Sciences was nothing but a barren patch of earth. By the time they began their senior year this past autumn, the new Science and Engineering Building was a gleaming five stories filled with bright open spaces for collaborative work in genomics, robotics, cyber-physical systems, and biomedical research. Last fall also brought the opening of the Innovation Partnership Building, located on a new road, Discovery Drive, that opened mid-way through their sophomore year. The new Peter J. Werth Residence Tower, known at first as NextGen Hall, opened in 2016 at the start of their junior year. The new Hartford Campus opened in August 2017, bringing a more visible UConn presence to the state capital, along with a Starbucks café and Barnes & Noble UConn Bookstore right downtown; and, also in August 2017, a new residence hall opened adjacent to the Stamford Campus, offering a residential experience to Stamford students for the first time.

There were less monumental changes that nonetheless mean a lot. Like food. Over the past four years, Dining Services began experimenting with food trucks, edible insects, and new flavors of ice cream, and won gold medals from the National Association of College & University Food Services in three consecutive years for sweet potato gnocchi, Not So Crabby Vegan Crab Cakes with Remoulade Dressing, and bibimbap steak and egg burrito. 

The Class of 2018, who celebrated the start of their journey with UConn’s first candlelight Convocation, will mark the end of their time here at Commencement ceremonies Saturday through Monday, May 5-7, when 6,378 undergraduate and 2,658 graduate students will be awarded their degrees. The undergraduates include 4,987 native Nutmeggers, who hail from 165 of Connecticut’s 169 towns and cities, and 1,391 from a state other than Connecticut. An additional 206 came to study at UConn from 13 different countries outside of the U.S. The oldest in the class will be 77, the youngest 19, and 1,535 of them will be the first in their families to graduate from college.

But no matter their age, where they came from, or where they’re going, they will all be Huskies forever.