Graduation looked a little different this year but for our #AerieREAL ambassadors that didn’t mean they couldn’t still celebrate in their own special ways. We connected with four recent grads, Samantha, Serena, Crystal and Corinne, to learn more about the ways they recognized this important milestone in their lives and how they’re staying positive during this unique time.

Samantha Marinkovich

@sammymarinkovich

How did you celebrate your graduation this year without being able to have a true ceremony on campus? (Did your family do anything, friends, school, etc.?)
SM: My school, UC Berkeley, threw a commencement ceremony on Minecraft. It was actually really cute to see our entire campus built on the game! My family, boyfriend (he graduated too!), and his family were able to watch the ceremony through Zoom. It was nice to share the moment with them, even though we couldn’t physically be together. Our parents also sent us cake, steak, and champagne, so we could celebrate from home. My graduation trip to Korea got postponed, but I’m excited to carry on the celebrations into next year.

Can you share insights on how you stay positive during this challenging time?
SM:  Reaching out to friends has made a huge impact on me staying positive throughout this time! Texting, calling, and Facetiming have all been lifesavers in maintaining relationships and remembering I’m not alone. I love to bullet journal, and it’s been a habit of mine for years to write down “monthly highlights” in my journal. Keeping track of all the good things happening in my life reminds me how blessed I am and that there is no reason to dwell on the negatives. Finally, I have an 80 year-old great aunt back home. I think a main way I stay positive is to think of her and remember why we’re taking these precautions. I feel better about staying at home when I remember the people I am doing it for.

Advice you have for other people graduating and trying to navigate this time period?
SM: Be proud of yourself for graduating, and don’t let this challenging time make you forget all the hard work it took to reach this point! It may not have been the ceremony or celebration you were expecting, but that doesn’t make the accomplishment any less impressive. We’re all in the same boat. Though we may be full of uncertainty in what’s coming with the workforce and with graduate schools in the coming months, whatever our futures hold, we will get through it, and the class of 2020 will always have an amazing story to tell. I am the most Type A person I know, and I love to have everything planned out as far as I can, but this time period has made me take a step back. I feel I’ve been able to accept more and more that uncertainty is okay! Take it day by day. We’re young and if this time has taught me anything, it’s to cherish the time we have and love the ones you’re with!

What’s next for you?
SM: I am working full time as an Associate Scientist at a biotechnology company in Emeryville, CA! I’m really lucky to have started working part time during my last semester, so I was able to easily transition to full time once the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders started. The company I work for strives to create more sustainable products, and I’m excited to contribute to it.

Serena Salgado

@_serenasaurus_

How did you celebrate your graduation this year without being able to have a true ceremony on campus? (Did your family do anything, friends, school, etc.?)
SS: I am planning on celebrating at my apartment in Evanston, IL with my roommates. There will be plenty of food and excitement! We also are planning on having someone come and play pomp and circumstance for our porch graduation.

Can you share insights on how you stay positive during this challenging time?
SS:  I feel so lucky to be graduating from a great institution and when I am feeling down, I try to focus on all of the gifts Northwestern has given me. Those experiences and friendships will be what I carry with me for the rest of my life, graduation or not.

Advice you have for other people graduating and trying to navigate this time period?
SS: Take time to be angry. Take time to be upset and cry and feel the grief of lost experiences and opportunities. You deserve to feel emotions and take time for yourself. Working through those feelings of loss have helped me to move forward and see the light at the end of the tunnel.

What’s next for you?
SS: I have been selected as a member of the 2020-2022 FAO Schwarz Fellowship cohort. I will be working as the College Success and Alumni Support Intern for Breakthrough Greater Boston in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I am so excited to explore a new city and new opportunities!

Crystal Jeong

@crystal_light7

How did you celebrate your graduation this year without being able to have a true ceremony on campus? (Did your family do anything, friends, school, etc.?)
CJ: I celebrated my graduation with a special dinner with my family. My family decorated the house with class of 2020 decoration and streamers. We got all dressed up and I wore my graduation dress with my cap and gown. I am extremely grateful that my family planned it for me and that it was still a worthwhile celebration!

Can you share insights on how you stay positive during this challenging time?
CJ: Although this time has been quite a struggle, I am very blessed to be surrounded by loved ones and to be reminded of what is important in life. I have been staying in touch with my friends through video chats and sending funny TikToks to each other.

Advice you have for other people graduating and trying to navigate this time period?
CJ: My advice to my fellow 2020 graduates is to cherish the last four years that we had and to not let the current events diminish our accomplishments. Our college experience will always be in our memories and we will continue to make more amazing memories in the future!

What’s next for you?
CJ: I hope to advance to a career in digital marketing. The future is still a very big question mark for me, but I am excited to see where I will end up, and to experience the journey that is to come!

Corinne Hebestreit

@coriiinnee

How did you celebrate your graduation this year without being able to have a true ceremony on campus? (Did your family do anything, friends, school, etc.?)
CH: Though I didn’t have a true ceremony on campus, I graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in the comfort of my living room surrounded by my family. We all watched my graduation ceremony on a live stream and enjoyed breakfast together. The night before, we got takeout sushi from a restaurant and ate it out on our deck. The weather was beautiful that night, and I realized the most important part of graduation is reflecting on your achievements and the incredible people who helped you get there. My friend who graduated from Pitt last year lent me her cap and gown so that I could still get a graduation photo from home. I was really touched by her actions, and I know that whether I had a graduation ceremony or not, I still received so much support and love during this time.

Can you share insights on how you stay positive during this challenging time?
CH: I spend a lot of my time outside in the fresh air, and I try to take all of my Facetime and Zoom calls outside as well. Talking to my friends and family reminds me that I am not alone, and I know we are all craving human connection again. I even Facetime my friends while I am on a run or a walk, so that I feel like I have a workout buddy with me! My favorite thing right now is to write letters every week to my family members and friends. It’s a brief moment to pull out my art supplies to decorate the letters, and I get to pour my heart into crafting a thoughtful message.

Advice you have for other people graduating and trying to navigate this time period?
CH: We are going to come out of this stronger. Focus on what you’re thankful for and on the talents and gifts that you can bring to the table. No, our graduation isn’t as we imagined it, but you should be proud of all that you achieved and relish the memories you made. Find a creative outlet and try out new things! This is just the beginning of an incredible life, so stay excited and hopeful.

What’s next for you?
CH: In April, I got a job at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center as an Internal Communication Specialist, and I just started this month! Of course, I am working from home, but that also means I get to wear my cozy Aerie pieces every day to work, which is a total win for me! I am looking forward to growing in my career and always remaining real and true to myself.

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