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Stories from the Class of 2021

Graduating students discuss the challenges and rewards of their college experience.

College is tough, even when there isn't a once-in-a-century, yearlong, worldwide pandemic occurring. So to those who are graduating this year, congrats on your achievement! We trust that the challenges you have faced and overcome have made you a stronger and more well-rounded person.

Below are the stories from a handful of the Class of 2021. Gursirat, Eric, Emily, Andrea and Peyton will also be student "hosts" during this year's Commencement ceremony, which will be virtual and can be seen on, and on the University of Utah's YouTube and Facebook channels.

Gursirat Grewal | Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering

"I was 18 and had never sat on a plane before, had never been even around my own city by myself. And here I was, on a plane, not to another state, but to another continent, on the other side of the world, North America.

I remember I was afraid that I wouldn’t understand the accent, and that people wouldn’t understand what I was saying. At the Los Angeles airport, the customs and border protection officer asked me something and when I had him repeat the fifth time, he used his hands and enacted removing glasses. I laugh at it now but back then, I was intimidated, I was scared about how I would have communications if I would make any friends.

And then I came to the U, my very first day, and I volunteered to help new students move into the dorms. And THAT, was the start of being comfortable with my accent, with myself."

Eric Jara | Bachelor Science in Quantative Analysis of Markets & Organizations

Eric Jara, Class of 2021"Being the first in my family to go to college, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. If it weren’t for my peers, my mentors, my advisors, my professors, and all those here, I wouldn’t have made it. Plain and simple. If it weren’t for this concept of 'higher education, I would not know what the world really has to offer.

It was because of the David Eccles School of Business, the doors they opened for me, and the people I’ve met, that my own story has been re-written and I held the pen. From a construction worker with no education and no hopes of doing anything great with my life, to standing
here today graduating alongside my peers.

They say that when one chapter ends, another one starts and believe me when I say that this class is far from finished. As we celebrate our accomplishments up to date, our awards, our relationships, our passed classes, our experiences, and our graduation. We also celebrate a new beginning. I’ve both seen and heard of this class’s plans for what’s next. From grad school, to full-time jobs offers, to building businesses, to educating others, to giving back, to re-building the world, we are looking at the inspiring leaders of the future. We are looking at people who will take their education, their experiences, their support, their heart and their hustle into the next chapter."

Andrea Ochoa | Bachelor of Social Work

"A few days ago, my mom said to me, 'Wow I cannot believe you are graduating already; doesn’t it feel like just yesterday we were dropping you off on your first day as a college freshman?' I looked at her and said, 'Um no, these have been the LONGEST four years of my life!'

Many people say that college was the best years of their life, whether it was the friends they made or the crazy stories and memories they will be able to look back on one day. I find these were the best years because of that but also because of the growth and self-discovery I
experienced at the U. I am the strong independent woman I am today, because of my college experience at the University of Utah. I was pushed to become more than just a dreamer but a doer. I say this because I am literally a DREAMER, a young girl who came to this country at
the age of five from Central America with her family to build something from nothing. Like many fellow graduates, my family has been my rock and my motivation to become someone great, to reach my professional aspirations."

Emily Pellegrino | Bachelor of Science in Marketing

"Yes, a car and road can be viewed simply as a means of transportation—a vessel to get us from one place to another. But that would undermine the significance of everything that driving brings with it.

Similarly, in its most basic sense, college is something that gets us from one academic checkpoint to another. But that doesn’t factor in every other aspect that makes it the entire experience it is. Just as we have access to infinite routes to go from one place to another, all of us ended up at this university at the same brief moment in time. Just as we decorate our cars to make them our own, we litter our college career with different clubs, activities and events. And in both places, we hold the memories created with the people we love, closer to us than any physical object or hypothetical destination we could be headed towards.

The amazing thing about this moment in time is that we are not only at a crossroads for where our lives will take us, but we are witnessing a turning point for the entire world coming out of a time that we never could have anticipated. Just as we are coming into ourselves and finding
what we want to do from this point out, so too is the world around us trying to recuperate and reimagine what daily life will be like. Yes, we look to the past in a nostalgic sense. But we know that no matter what, life will never be the same as it once was. Global pandemic or not, college is something that molds and shapes us not solely into the person we always envisioned we would be—but into the person that we need to be in order to further ourselves and continue our journey."

Peyton Wong | Bachelor of Arts in Music

Peyton Wong"As a music major, you might assume that I love music. Well, it’s true. I do. I play the trombone, which is that instrument that goes (trombone gliss noise). Soon into my college career, my trombone playing started to completely fall apart due to an uncontrollable tremor in my jaw. I couldn’t even do things that beginning players can easily do. This was one of the biggest factors in changing my major. During the next few years, I dealt with a lot of inner turmoil about music, scholarships, changing my degree around and what I was going to do with my life (fun fact: I’m still not even sure about that one). Luckily, I was able to figure out a lot during that time, and as my final school year approached, I was very excited; I wanted to make this year stand out. I had meant that in a positive way, but I got what I was hoping for I guess.

First, I get diagnosed with dystonia, a neurological disorder characterized by involuntary muscle contractions. There is no cure for it, but sometimes there are ways to mitigate the symptoms. This wasn’t too surprising since it lines up with my trombone problems, but it was still heart-crushing to hear.

Second, I become a primary caregiver for my mom. Since August, my mom’s health has been steadily declining and for many months she has needed 24-hour care. Since classes were online, I was able to take care of my mom in the mornings and afternoons while my dad was working, and in the evenings, we’d do it together.

As hard as it might be to stop focusing on the bad, I encourage each and every one of you to take a step back sometimes and recognize the good. Don’t dismiss what you’re going through, but try to think about what you have accomplished despite the hardships. I know it has made a world of difference for me. Every graduate has a huge 'good' they should be thinking about and if your life was anything like mine during these past few years—or better, or worse—you should be extremely proud of this accomplishment."