Congratulations to our 2020-21 Latin Honors Graduates!

May 17, 2021

Congratulations to our 2020-21 Latin Honors graduates! We're so proud of the incredible work you've all done over the past several years, and we can't wait to hear what you'll do next. We leave you now with a "commencement" address from Alonso E. Galvan-Ochoa (Psychology, summa cum laude), as well as letters from graduates Helena Sverak (Biochemistry, summa cum laude), Katelyn Tarrolly (Marketing, summa cum laude,) and Marcos Zachary (Biomedical Engineering, summa cum laude).

2020-21 Latin Honors Speaker, Alonso E. Galvan-Ochoa

Helena Sverak

Cum laude translates to "with praise," and everyone graduating this year is utmost deserving of graduation with praise. We've made it through not only our bachelor's degrees through Zoom class and shutdowns, but in addition, we've put in the extra work to be recognized for our thesis and community involvement.

Many people, myself included, initially didn't know about what honors has to offer beyond small class sizes and a quiet dorm, but as I've come to learn, the opportunities from the University Honors Program can directly impact your career and life beyond school. My first honors seminar was titled, "Infectious Disease Control" and I originally thought it would just be an interesting way to fulfill an honors requirement. Similar to many pre-meds, I was dead set on med school and had a clear career path set out in front of me, but as we grow as students, things change.

Learning about infectious diseases began to make me consider becoming a researcher, and honors gave me the opportunities to make connections and find the subjects that I was truly passionate about, even if I didn't yet know what they were. Thank you to my professor Jill DeBoer, for hiring me at the emergency health office and being there for me the past three years as I've wandered onto the path of becoming a research scientist. In 2018 I couldn't have imagined that working in a health emergency response office would become such an influential experience, but thanks to that honors seminar, I've gotten to help coordinate COVID testing, vaccine clinics, contact tracing support, and so much more.

It's been over a year of pandemic and we've all heard how things have adapted, how everything is more flexible online, and we've done Zoom labs, virtual interviews, everything that was unimaginable a year ago. However, despite adaptations, many things have just been harder. Not only did school suddenly become a self-study endeavor, but I'm sure you all noticed that doing thesis research is a bit hard when research labs can't take in students. This lack of experience doesn't help grad school applications, and the fact that it's a pandemic year didn't soothe the sting of receiving nine graduate school rejections in a row. But in the end, all you need is one acceptance or one opportunity to make it all worth it.

So here we are, at the finish line. Even disregarding the pandemic, this process is not easy. Everyone here started with a blank word document and puts together a significant piece of work on top of lectures, projects, exams, work, research, family, and staying sane. Everyone making it through this year is worthy of praise, but doing the extra work to persevere and complete the research, writing, and experiences to graduate cum laude has made it a special honor to know you all. Thank you.

—Helena Sverak (Biochemistry, summa cum laude)

Katelyn Tarrolly

I would like to begin by extending a heartfelt congratulations to our entire class. Although we may be apart, I hope you share in the sense of collective pride and accomplishment we deserve to feel today. I feel a huge amount of gratitude to be delivering a small commencement message on behalf of our graduating class. Our class is brave, resilient, and relentless. In a year when giving up may have been tempting, and undoubtedly easier, we never did.

It goes without saying that this was not the senior year we had expected or planned for, and I share in your sadness because of that. It can be hard to not let the past year and a half overshadow all the experiences we had prior to our worlds being flipped upside down. The last time many of us had in-person class was March 2020, and some of us never returned to campus during our senior year. In facing these circumstances, the honors program helped many of us find a sense of community in which we could support one another. Despite all of our obstacles, we not only made it through college, but accomplished the distinguishable achievement of graduating with Latin Honors.

Being on the other side of this feat, it is important to reflect on what it means to be an honors student…. Being an honors student at the University of Minnesota means more than being part of a selection of high-achieving students; it is about action. Whether it has been through mentorship, volunteerism, course work, or the completion of your thesis, being an honors student has empowered each of us to challenge ourselves, create change, and build bonds that will outlast our time together.

          What does it mean to be an honors student in the class of 2021?

In spite of all the challenges we have faced, we strive for what others in the past have not yet achieved.

Although this is not the ending that we could have foreseen, we must acknowledge the lessons, skills, and adaptability we have gained through this experience. Our tenacity and ability to challenge ourselves while conquering the unexpected will undoubtedly help us to succeed as we each enter the next phase of our journeys. In reflecting on this year, I often think of a quote from an anonymous author that goes, "difficult roads lead to beautiful destinations".

Whatever path you take after graduation, I hope the obstacles you encounter lead you to experience even further growth and guide you to discover the most beautiful and fulfilling destinations.

When you look back on your time as an honors student, I hope you are proud of the challenges you conquered, humbled by the experiences you had, and happy for the memories you made.

Congratulations honors graduates class of 2021. You made it. And as they say at the end of all roads, the journey has just begun!

—Katelyn Tarrolly (Marketing, summa cum laude)

Marcos Zachary

First and foremost, I would like to thank God who has put things in my life that I would have never been able to find on my own. I would like to thank my mom, dad, and brother for the constant love and support they have given me throughout college. Finally, I'd like to thank both faculty and friends who constantly inspire me to leave this world a better place than I found it.

To the Class of 2021, congratulations on your joyous achievement! Your journey to this point may have seemed daunting as you coped with rigorous course loads, struggled financially to make ends meet every semester of your matriculation, or faced other worries that sometimes put your graduation in doubt. And for many of us, last year gave us the biggest kick in the teeth as we dealt with Covid19, George Floyd's death, social media induced anxiety, and a very strange presidential election.

Through it all, we all shared one thing: discomfort. What time often reveals is that the most precious treasures are hiding right behind this discomfort. When my family immigrated to America ten years ago, they picked discomfort. They left their jobs, belongings, and family to offer my brother and I a greater future. And with limited English, the transition was not comfortable in the slightest bit. Their ability to endure discomfort would ultimately lead to my brother graduating with a chemical engineering degree and now me graduating with a biomedical engineering degree.

If you are trying to make a significant difference in the world, prepare yourself to feel uncomfortable. Prepare to fail over and over again. Prepare for those moments where you will doubt every decision that led to your current state. But at the end of your life, "go out with a bruised-up, worn out heart that gave too much, loved too strongly, and felt too fiercely... because it will always be more honorable to be out in the field getting trampled on than to be on the sidelines feeling superior for never having tried" (Heide Preibe). So as you graduate, promise yourself that you will not settle for the more comfortable option because life shrinks or expands in proportion to your courage.

Above all, remember that true greatness resides in genuine service to others. This Honors degree you now hold was not about obtaining high grades or taking extra classes; it was about the resilience each of you showed in your mission of changing the lives of those around you.

I am incredibly proud to be part of the Honors Class of 2021 and to congratulate you as you complete this defining milestone.

—Marcos Zachary (Biomedical Engineering, summa cum laude)