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Commencement 2021: Student Reflections Following a Year Like No Other

May 18, 2021

You’ve heard it time and again: what makes WPI special is the people, and the members of the Class of 2021 prove exactly that. Whether they’re going on to graduate school, a new job, military service, or something else entirely, the one thing they have in common is that they did it. They took a year full of uncertainty, constant changes, and upended plans, and faced it with grace, flexibility, and resilience. In celebration of them and their countless accomplishments, we asked a few members of the Class of 2021 (as well as some faculty and staff) to reflect on their time at WPI, reminisce on their favorite memories, reveal special moments they’re looking forward to on commencement day, and share how they plan to carry the friends they made and things they learned into their post-graduation lives.

Here’s to you, Class of 2021. Thanks for showing us what it means to be the GOAT.

Marina Como, BS, Chemical Engineering

 

It has been my family and friends who provided me with a strong foundation to successfully finish four years of college at WPI. I want to thank everyone who has stood by my side, motivated, and inspired me. To my graduating class I want to say that the diploma we are getting is not a ticket to a good life but a ticket to change the world, so use it as best as you can. … Without the help of friends, family, and the WPI community, this year wouldn't have been easy, but we all stood together and made the impossible, possible. … My favorite time at WPI has been my IQP in Morocco. WPI's project-based learning philosophy has opened many doors for me to get to know myself, my strengths, my weaknesses, and enhance my teamwork skills. … I am excited to join one of my favorite pharmaceutical companies, BMS, in its rotational program.”



Megan Varney, BS/MS, Physics

 

I welcomed the challenges of this year with open arms and used the momentum to keep pushing myself forward, finishing coursework for two degrees, completing a master's thesis, applying to PhD programs—and at the end of it all, I took one final leap and auditioned to be a commencement speaker. Adversity is inevitable in life; even though there were many days that were incredibly hard, I’m grateful for the new experiences and growth that came with them. … After graduation, I’ll be pursuing a PhD in physics at New York University. My research experiences at WPI instilled in me a burning passion for physics and scientific research. My coursework instilled in me the desire to study hard, work hard, and explore new fields. The community at WPI instilled in me the ability to ask for help and support. I can't imagine being more prepared for graduate work than I am right now after all the experiences I had at WPI.



Ryan Candy, BS, Mathematical Sciences

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Ryan Candy poses for friends, all wearing masks, on Indian Lake. alt
Ryan Candy (middle, black coat)

 

This year was challenging, and we missed a lot of the activities that mark a traditional WPI year. That said, we still found time to spend time with friends, go on adventures, and make memories. In C-Term, we were able to get outside, slide around, and throw some snowballs on Indian Lake when it was frozen. I’m going to miss living so close to and working with my friends on a daily basis next year, and I’m glad I got to spend time with them this year!”



Deborah Oyewole, PhD, Materials Science & Engineering

 

It's been a great opportunity to meet amazing professors, mentors, and colleagues at WPI. … I especially enjoyed my time with the WPI women's chorus (Alden Voices). I always looked forward to attending rehearsals and concerts. … And I am very thankful for my darling husband and my lovely daughters for showering me with so much love and for supporting me throughout my PhD program at WPI.”



Zeynep Seker, BS, Robotics Engineering & Mechanical Engineering

 

I had some sleepless nights at WPI studying or working on a project. Although these nights were very tiring, they will always be my favorite memories of my time at WPI. What made those nights great was the company I was with—my friends and I had many great late-night talks and I cherish every single one of them. I grew a lot as an engineer and as a person through the last four years. This was only possibly thanks to my friends and family. Every person I interacted with at WPI played a great role on who I am today, and I am thankful to all of them.”



Benjamin Seeto, BS, Mechanical Engineering

 

I’m very grateful for the amazing friendships I’ve made and the memories I’ll never forget. I want to thank my family for the unbelievable amount of support they have given me on this journey. … There have been a lot of ups and downs this year, but I’ve learned the importance of keeping a positive attitude and appreciating the moments I get to spend with friends—even if it’s just seeing a familiar face in the Dunkin’ line. … It’s hard to pick just one memory as my favorite but whether I was on the baseball field, or hanging out with my fraternity brothers, my fondest memories are with the friends I’ve made here. … After college I’ll be a fire protection and life safety consultant at Code Red Consultants in Southborough, MA. WPI’s unique and rigorous BS/MS fire protection program has exceeded my expectations and I am lucky to have this education as my foundation to building my career in the fire protection world.”



Spencer Tess, BS, Mechanical Engineering, ROTC

 

I chose to have MSG Sutton for my first salute. His guidance and mentorship through the last two years has been instrumental in my development as a future Army officer. … I just want to thank my parents and my sister for their support through the last four years. … My happiest moments are when I am doing things with Army ROTC. It is always great to get away from academic studies and enjoy the outdoors while developing as a leader. … I will be an Engineer Officer in the Active Duty Army for the next several years, but I am hoping to be an Army Corps of Engineers project officer during my career. After my time in the Army, I am hoping to work as an engineer for DEVCOM or for a government contractor as a design engineer.”



Rosana Pochat, BS, Electrical & Computer Engineering

 

Throughout all the heartbreaks, sadness, and frustration, it’s been hard to focus on oneself and put our needs first. Working on my self love and actually working on myself and giving me the space to do good, but also to make mistakes has been the way I got through this year. Learning how to communicate with my friends has been the way that our friendships not only lasted, but have become stronger. … Surprisingly, my favorite memories have come from this year—the first time the Alliance Exec Board was able to meet in person in over a year. The energy in the room was something I had never experienced before. There was so much hope and plans for the future. It saddened me to know that I wouldn’t be there to see what those magnificent people were going to achieve, but it brought me joy to know that at least I got to experience some of it with them.”



Bhoomi Patel, MS, Computer Science

 

With COVID impacting the world, the past year at WPI has been nothing but a unique experience. Though the virtual world made every human interaction less viable, WPI stood strong like a pillar to support its students by giving ample resources and assuring a better tomorrow. The response of WPI to COVID has helped me learn the significance of adaptability, while dedicatedly being driven toward a greater purpose. As I complete a major milestone, I take this opportunity to thank WPI for all the lifelong learnings and the innumerable opportunities that have paved a path to a better future.”



Erika Wentz, BS, Architectural Engineering

 

Perseverance through everything made this year what it is. There have been so many challenges throughout my time at WPI, and this is just another one. We worked together and found a solution, that's the engineering way. … Thank you. That's all I can really say. My parents are my rocks, and my friends are my cheerleaders. I would not be the person I am today without either of them. …  I plan to be working at Gilbane Building Company, a construction firm in Boston. I was able to intern with Gilbane for two summers before receiving my full-time offer. I got my first internship through the WPI spring Career Fair in my sophomore year.”



Robbie Starr, BS, Electrical & Computer Engineering

 

I can’t pinpoint one favorite memory of my time at WPI because there have been so many amazing ones, but I can say that my most favorite memories to make have been the spontaneous and unexpected ones. The fun adventures that happen with little to no planning or understanding of what will happen next, the random hangouts with people you never expected to meet but become great friends with, and the times when you wish that the day or the night would never end. I have too many of those to count, and I’m so grateful for them and for the wonderful friends that made them happen.”


 

Ella Forbes, BS, Biomedical Engineering, ROTC

 

I chose MSG Sutton, who is the Senior Military Science Instructor (SMSI). His guidance, instruction, and life lessons in and out of the instructional period were vital for my leadership and self development. His commitment to each cadet and the program itself is unmatched; I was more than honored to choose him as my first salute. … Post graduation I will commission as a U.S. Army engineer officer into the California National Guard. WPI and its project-based learning, along with Army ROTC, has given me the necessary communication, leadership, and teamwork skills to help me thrive as a leader in both military and civilian career paths. I could not be more excited to begin this next step of my journey.”



Kristophe Zephyrin, BS, Civil Engineering and Environmental & Sustainability Studies

 

I want to thank my family for supporting me throughout the entire college journey … the support was amazing and I really appreciate that. I appreciate my friends who stuck with me and have been in my support group throughout my four years at WPI and I hope that we can build a long relationship afterward. … My favorite WPI memories are my time with different campus organizations. With the Black Student Union I was a model in the fashion show, which led to being a model for Boston Fashion Week. With the National Society of Black Engineers, I got to travel to different places and experience Black unity in engineering. … I plan to complete a master’s in Science Technology for Innovation in Global Development with The Global School. This summer I hope to have an internship, develop programs for the National Society of Black Engineers, and write a children’s book dedicated to my late aunt. WPI honestly gave me the dedication to be able to handle all these things that I want to achieve and gave me the skills and connections to make those things happen.”



Abhishek Jain, MS, Robotics Engineering

 

I want to thank my family for their continued support. It’s been difficult times of late, but you have always been there for me. As for my friends here, I thank you for the beautiful, wonderful memories. You have been family away from home. Stay in touch! ... Last year was very unexpected, but I still enjoyed it. Starting from those Deep Learning lectures in the classroom (gosh, feels like ages to have been in a classroom), those discussions in the Gordon Library with friends and project mates, a part-time job with Chartwells, a trip to Rhode Island, a night visit to the Wachusett Reservoir—I loved every bit of these things. It was a very different atmosphere with meetings and classes happening online, but it was sometimes a relief like just getting up in the morning and setting up Zoom as opposed to going all the way to campus. … I will miss everything. … I look to continue my research. ... Here at WPI I got an opportunity to explore different robotics fields and to work to know my interests to build my career.”



Haoxing Li, MS, Information Technology

 

I wanna tell my family that I had a wonderful journey at WPI, the language barrier never stopped me getting closer to this warm community. I wish I could bring you here—a place I fell in love with in two years. … Although the pandemic takes the classroom from me, it never cuts off my connection with WPI. I kept going to WPI’s gym at least once per week, just to create more memories before the final goodbye. … Even now, I still remember those handshakes on Earle Bridge two years ago. It took away all my fear [and replaced it] with hope and kindness. I hope this tradition can live forever. … Within two years, WPI let me realize just how much I loved connecting with people in different cultures and how much I enjoyed this journey in the U.S. Hence, I decided to start my career in this land and show people the strength of WPI students.”



Khadijah Ibrahim, BS, Electrical & Computer Engineering

 

I had my family and friends help me throughout the entire journey. Most important, the friends I made at WPI who share the same experiences I had really made this year special. … My favorite memory was my time in the Connections program. It was a great way to get myself situated at WPI and provided a strong foundation that lasted all four years.”



Thomas Feraco, BS, Mechanical Engineering, ROTC

 

I am choosing Master Sergeant Alan Sutton as my first salute because he has been an extremely helpful instructor and has given me the tools necessary to be a successful Army Officer. He provided me with countless pieces of wisdom and guidance. He is a true intellectual and someone I aspire to be like one day. … I would like to thank my family and friends for everything they have done for me. Without their help and support, I would not be anywhere near where I am today. I am grateful for all of them. …These were some of the best years of my life and I would not change anything. I remember when I met my best friends for the first time. I am forever grateful for WPI throwing these guys into my life. … My future plans include commissioning into the US Army and committing my service as a Combat Engineer. I would like to work as a project manager and eventually own a construction company that deals with constructing private residential properties.”



Diego Vargas Blanco, PhD, Biology & Biotechnology

 

As a WPI graduate student and scientist, I have learned to deal with the unexpected. However, few things prepare you for a pandemic. I am thankful I had an amazing PhD advisor with whom I was able to continue doing research from home, publishing two more papers in 2020. It is not how I had pictured my last year at WPI, but we made it work.”



Rebecca Serven, BS, Mechanical Engineering

 

From the late-night calls, to the all-nighters, to the pre-deadline zaniness, I am forever grateful to my friends and family for their unwavering kindness and support throughout my entire WPI career. … One of my fondest memories at WPI was learning how to play Alaskan Baseball during New Student Orientation. It was such a strange activity to be introduced to, but it was certainly the most entertaining. … After graduating from WPI, I am excited to begin my career at ABB in a rotational development program. And I know that I am prepared for a lifetime of learning, all because of WPI’s rigorous academics, project-based learning, and collaborative atmosphere.”



Johann Bradley, BS, Industrial Engineering, ROTC

 

My father, Petty Officer First Class Robert Bradley, will be my first salute. My mother and father have always been supportive in my life, and I know for a fact I would not be able to commission without having such supportive parents by my side. Thank you! … While this pandemic was unexpected, I try to look at the life lessons I can take away from it and try to hopefully make the world a better place from the lessons I have learned from the past. … My favorite memory at WPI was when I won the Men's Pole Vault at the Indoor New England Championship for Track and Field (I hope to one day compete in the Olympic Games). … After WPI, I will attend Georgia Institute of Technology to complete my MS in Aeronautics and Astronautics. I will also serve in the Army Reserves as a Military Intelligence Officer. My long-term goal in life is to create a company that will improve the way we currently operate in space exploration to assist in humanity's ongoing quest to explore.”



Nathaniel Prasad, MS, Mechanical Engineering

 

After years of working in the industry as an aeronautical engineer, I have finally earned my Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering. I must admit that it was a long and challenging journey, but one that I could not have embarked on alone. I would like to thank my wife, Kristin Prasad, (for her unconditional support and encouragement); my late mother (for her encouraging words, always telling me I could do anything I put my mind to); the staff and management teams from F119 Global Services Engineering and F117 Customer Support Engineering (Pratt & Whitney) for their encouragement and support; WPI’s administrators and professors for their patience and excellent teaching styles; my good colleagues: Patrick Murphy (Rolls-Royce), Fred Lorenzen (Pratt & Whitney), and Oluwafemi Oseni (Pratt & Whitney) for recommending me; and the Employee Scholar Program through Raytheon Technologies. Without this excellent program I would not have had the opportunity to return to college and complete an advanced degree in something that I am passionate about. I am excited and proud to be working for a corporation that fosters an employee’s ability to return to college and earn a master’s, one that has great working relationships with distinguished universities across the globe.”

Worth 1,000 Words

WPI students are always going above and beyond, something they did when completing these reflections too. Check out some of the additional photos they submitted below!

Kristophe Zephyrin holds a mic during a past BSU fashion show.
Kristophe Zephyrin
Robbie Starr and a group of friends pose in a kitchen together.
Robbie Starr
Ella Forbes instructs the crew team during a meet on the water.
Ella Forbes
Haoxing Li takes a selfie at night.
Haoxing Li
Marina Como smiles while working in the lab.
Marina Como
Rebecca Serven smiles with her sister, grandmother, and mother.
Rebecca Serven
Spencer Tess smiles for a photo against a green foliage background.
Spencer Tess
Diego Vargas Blanco smiles in his commencement robes.
Diego Vargas Blanco
Erika Wentz smiles for a photo in front of Boynton Hall.
Erika Wentz
Deborah Oyewole smiles for a photo against a snowy background.
Deborah Oyewole
Khadijah Ibrahim smiles for a photo.
Khadijah Ibrahim
Abhishek Jain smiles for a photo with a group of friends.
Abhishek Jain
Kristophe Zephyrin poses for a photo with a friend against a brick wall background.
Kristophe Zephyrin
Haoxing Li takes a selfie in the Schwaber Dance Studios.
Haoxing Li
Robbie Starr poses with a group at a past event held at President Leshin's home.
Robbie Starr
Marina Como smiles for a photo against a sunrise.
Marina Como
Rebecca Serven poses with fellow members of SGA.
Rebecca Serven
Abhishek Jain smiles with a group of friends.
Abhishek Jain
Ella Forbes smiles in her WPI gear.
Ella Forbes
Robbie Starr smiles during NSO.
Robbie Starr
Rebecca Serven smiles with her sister.
Rebecca Serven
Marina Como smiles against a tiled background.
Marina Como
Abhishek Jain smiles with friends during an event on campus.
Abhishek Jain