Class of 2019 reflects on life at U.Va., prepares for life after graduation

University graduates reflect on triumphs and challenges during their time at U.Va.

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Many graduates will be heading directly into the workforce following graduation. 

Courtesy University of Virginia

The University’s Class of 2019 will walk down the Lawn for the final time Saturday, May 18 and Sunday, May 19. Under the sea of brightly colored balloons and carefully decorated caps will be a sea of graduating students preparing to leave their past four years in Charlottesville behind, with next steps ranging from careers in healthcare to gap years and studying for graduate school exams, as well as reflecting on their experiences and the role the University and its resources, or lack thereof, have played in shaping them.

Many graduates, including fourth-year Commerce student John Cragun, will be heading directly into the workforce following graduation. According to the McIntire School of Commerce’s destinations report for the class of 2018, 98 percent of students enter the workforce promptly after graduation — one of the higher rates among U.Va.’s schools and departments. 

Cragun said he was offered an employment opportunity with the multinational accounting firm Ernst & Young in New York City. Cragun previously interned for for three months with the firm the summer before his fourth year. 

Cragun said McIntire has provided him with the specialized knowledge and skills that gave him a thorough understanding of the job landscape and prepared him for the business world.   

“The resources that the McIntire [School] has been kind enough to provide have been instrumental in helping guide us,” Cragun said. “The biggest [Contracted Independent Organization] which I had the opportunity to be involved with is the Alternative Investment Fund at McIntire. AIF has been a really instrumental resource for me. The mentorship I was lucky enough from older students when I was much younger was incredibly valuable for me.”

Cragun advised underclassmen students to explore their options and not force themselves to follow one specific, predetermined career path.  

“The biggest piece of advice that I would give to underclassmen is correlation does not mean causation,” Cragun said. “Things in life don’t necessarily go in one direct linear fashion, there is not one way to achieve success.” 

Rebecca Soistmann, a fourth-year College student and the outgoing vice president of Fourth Year Trustees, will be working as a strategic healthcare research analyst at the Advisory Board Company in Washington, D.C. following graduation.

“The Advisory Board hires several U.Va graduates every year, and I think the school has a good reputation at the company,” Soistmann said. “I’m appreciative of those that came before me and established this good reputation.”

Not every graduating student will be going directly into the workforce, however. Fourth-year College student Celter Odango is one such student. Odango will be taking two gap years before entering medical school. He will also be working for the University Medical Center as a full-time research assistant.  

“I will be working in different medical specialty clinics, including rheumatology, [endocrinology], nephrology, dermatology, pulmonary, allergy and infectious diseases,” Odango said. 

Fourth-year College student Maihan Far Alam is planning to work in Charlottesville for a year while she studies for the LSAT and prepares to apply to law school next fall and believes she is ready for law school and beyond. Alam also reflected on the challenges she faced as a first-generation college student at U.Va. 

“As a first-generation college student and a first-generation immigrant, these past four years have been both the toughest and most rewarding moments of my entire life,” Alam said. “I have made so many mistakes along the way, but I don't think I'd change my experiences for anything.”

Cragun said that ultimately, he believes the community he has found at the University will continue to be part of his life, even when he has left Charlottesville. 

“A degree from U.Va is not just a title, it’s also an opportunity to be a part of a really close knit network of alumni that you can find across all regions of the globe,” Cragun said. “I think U.Va. is one of the most prestigious universities and the community extends far beyond the boundaries of just Charlottesville.”

Alam agreed, saying that one of the most important lessons she has learned during her four years as a University student was to value interpersonal connections and sharing life experiences with others. 

“U.Va has taught me the meaning of community and to value my personal relationships above all else, which is pivotal for thriving in any professional space,” Alam said. “Listening and learning from others' experiences is the first step to building a strong community, but it also helps us grow as individuals.”

Fourth-year College student Marleigh Walsh also reflected on the impact U.Va. has made with its financial aid programs, particularly for low-income students. 

“U.Va. is one of the best [for financial aid], and they meet financial need 100 percent including refund checks for cost of living which is essential for making college affordable for low-income students,” Walsh said.

Walsh also commented on the lack of resources for minority student populations she experienced during her four years and said that while she saw different student groups and CIO’s partaking in student activism, she was not aware of any outstanding efforts by the University. 

“This is the first year I remember seeing dining hours for Ramadan, and I have seen from minority students that U.Va. pushes diversity on paper but offers no support after students are admitted which to me says they care more about appearances than their current students,” Walsh said. 

Fourth-year College student Alexa Gracias also spoke about the lack of inclusivity at the University but said she found her place on Grounds through various student organizations during her time here. 

“It is the students that work to build a warm and welcoming community,” Gracias said. “Fortunately, I had the pleasure of finding my home away from home with my best friends from [Hispanic/Latinx Peer Mentoring Program] PMP and [Latinx Student Alliance].”

Walsh added that while U.Va. call itself a “public ivy,” she feels they do not support the same initiatives — especially for undocumented students — as actual Ivy League schools. 

For example, according to Brown University’s website, both undocumented and DACA students are considered under a need-blind admissions policy. Furthermore, students with this status theoretically have 100 percent of their financial aid needs met after they matriculate. This policy is unlike the one in practice U.Va., which does not provide financial aid to students with DACA status — therefore, in order to enroll at the University, undocumented students must have both DACA status and pay tuition out-of-pocket.

An estimated 30 undocumented students currently attend the University, according to The Daily Progress. In contrast, there are over 250 students with DACA status currently enrolled at George Mason University because of the “financial barriers” U.Va.’s tuition poses.

Fourth-year College student Gouzal Nazary spoke on the topic of inclusion at U.Va. and stated that despite the presence of many organizations on Grounds that have selective application processes for participation, such as the Honor Committee and University Judiciary Committee, the University is “somewhat inclusive” and “there’s always a place for everyone.” 

Gracias further added that the University should improve its communication with the student body by providing more specific information and being more vocal about equity. 

“Most of the time the University seems to send out a general email summarizing events, but more can be done,” Gracias said. “As a top public school, U.Va. should be a role model for all by taking a stance and demanding fairness and justice.”   

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