An old and familiar notion holds that the experience of adversity builds character; given that, how much character must there be in the ranks of the Class of 2021?
The disruptions, obstacles, and setbacks are numbingly familiar by now: from a rapid shift to remote learning in the spring of 2020 to the new routine of masks, sanitizing, and mentally calculating a distance of six feet between one’s self and one’s peers. If the global pandemic weren’t enough, there was also a summer that saw the largest sustained protests in American history, a presidential election, the arrival and rollout of life-saving vaccines – and that was just the last 12 months.
“The great swells and sweeps of human history must be sensed if we are to chart a safe passage in the future,” Homer Babbidge, the beloved eighth president of UConn, once wrote. The Class of 2021 has done more than sense those currents; they have felt them.
But this class is so much more than the last 12 months, and will be so much more in the future: in the newly-launched website dedicated to this year’s graduates, you will meet first-generation students and third-generation Huskies, people who came to Storrs from Africa and people who came from Tolland, documentary filmmakers and social justice activists, artists and researchers and healers and teachers.
Here, they reflect on the journey that has brought them to the ranks of UConn graduates, and plan the ways they will make their marks on the world. Reading these stories, with sentiments that range from the exalted (community health care, overseas research) to the wonderfully everyday (Horsebarn Hill sunsets, Dairy Bar ice cream), gives us a glimpse of what it means to be a Husky in 2021.
One sentiment that comes up over and over is the sense of belonging to a close-knit community within a huge institution: “I was surprised at how small a big campus can feel,” these students say again and again. That community, that closeness, that togetherness, is the essence of UConn. Although countless things have changed since that day 140 years ago when 13 students arrived at what had been a home for Civil War orphans to begin the adventure that became our University, the sense that all UConn’s riches can be contained within the experiences of each individual student has remained.
This week, thousands of people will join the ranks of those 13 original students, and of all the subsequent generations of Huskies: doctors, teachers, public servants, WNBA All-Stars, astronauts, inventors, comedians, folk singers, puppeteers, pharmacists, nurses, civil rights lawyers, journalists – and even the current United States Secretary of Education, who will address the graduates on Saturday, May 8.
What stories will these newly-minted UConn alumni add to that illustrious volume that began in 1881? Only time will tell, but – having sensed the swells and sweeps of history already in their lives – we can be sure they’re ready to chart that safe passage to tomorrow.