Nearly 500 EWU students queued up on June 10 to parade through Eastern’s iconic Herculean pillars in celebration of a monumental accomplishment: earning a degree in the midst of a pandemic. They were joined by still more proud parents, siblings, friends, and faculty and staff, who lined Showalter’s “Hello Walk” to cheer for the graduating students.
Senior Send-Off was organized by EWU’s alumni and student affairs offices to celebrate the graduating 2022 class, along with the classes of 2020 and 2021, which missed out on the tradition when everything shut down.
Stacey Rasmussen ’04, president of the EWU Alumni Association Board of Directors, congratulated graduates and reminded them that although they were students for four years, they are now Eagles for life: “Welcome to the family, Eags!”
Collectively, the graduates stared down a pandemic, overcame the social and logistical inadequacies of remote learning and ultimately reached the finish line. And, although the pandemic impacted each student differently, there was universal agreement that the real world college experience is better than the virtual one. Still, pretty much everyone said their instructors did a great job of making the best of things.
Tay Nguyen, 22, earned a degree in visual communication design and hopes to become a designer specializing in athletics. He says he didn’t get to attend a single sports event for nearly two years.
“Once we got back in-person, I was able to attend a lot of the sports events,” the Kennewick, Washington-native said. Nguyen, who earned a top student award and is now pursuing internships, summarized his take on life, saying “it’s all about the journey.”
Linsday Deroos, a 26-year-old who also earned a visual communication design degree, gave a shout-out to professors for establishing virtual chatrooms that proved to be gamechangers through the pandemic. The rooms, she said, allowed students to connect and move forward.
“One friend reached out and made a study group, and that got us through the pandemic,” said Deroos, who plans to return to the Tri-Cities to build her career.
Allie Russell, a 22-year-old triplet who enrolled at Eastern with with her sisters, Lindsey and McKenna, reluctantly embraced — and made the most of — remote learning. The biology major missed out on some of the in-person labs, but at least returned to a newly opened Interdisciplinary Science Center last fall.
Russell says that she and her sisters kept each other motivated. “I think that the entirety of the pandemic was a lot to deal with. I’m pretty proud of myself for getting through it,” she says.
As larger groups of students assembled at outdoor tables to reminisce and enjoy desserts, Tori Tomsha and Darion Ralston, both 23 and dressed to the nines, had more than just graduation to celebrate.
Tomsha, who was sporting a diamond engagement ring, said, “We’re getting married in July. That’s probably our biggest next step.”
Tomsha is from Fairbanks, Alaska. She earned a degree in finance and management in December, and quickly landed a good job with a local trucking company. Although the Zoom meetings got old, she liked the flexibility of remote learning, saying, “It was nice staying home and being able to make more money.”
Ralston, of Newport, Washington, earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration and management. He noted that the pandemic sent professors scrambling to find the most effective means to conduct classes virtually and “there were some who did it really well.”