Early graduation sparks reflection, contentment



FILE- In this May 5, 2018, file photo, students attend the University of Toledo commencement ceremony in Toledo, Ohio. Colleges across the U.S. have begun cancelling and curtailing spring graduation events amid fears that the new coronavirus will not have subsided before the stretch of April and May when schools typically invite thousands of visitors to campus to honor graduating seniors.

The flurry of email notifications reminding eligible students of upcoming graduation dates begins clouding mailboxes as deadlines loom ever closer. For junior Caroline Lucas though, the revelation of her fast approaching future is not as daunting as she imagined it to be. She is comforted by her confidence in her degree and the knowledge she’ll be graduating early. Lucas is in full control of her college career and can only dream about what her future will hold.

“If I were in a degree where the path to a career wasn’t as up in the air, I wouldn’t have felt as comfortable graduating early,” Lucas said. “I felt more comfortable because the path to being a working artist is so different for everyone. I feel like I’m ready to start working in new places and I’m eager to get into that.” 

Lucas will graduate early with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theater Arts and a double major in communication and media. To achieve this, she relied on transfer credits from high school classes and packed each quarter with at least 20 credit hours. 

Senior Johanna Wieden will finish her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Animation after three and a half years and equates this success to the Advanced Placement (AP) classes she took that gave her early college credit. Graduating early was never her original goal, though. 

“I really just took those classes because I happened to land there,” Wieden said. “I wanted more of a challenge than the honors classes at my high school because I had already been taking those types of classes for two years.”

Wieden took a heavier course load to achieve early graduation but ultimately saved herself from further financial stress. The higher level classes she took in high school helped her acquire a helpful scholarship and less time spent at DePaul meant less money spent on tuition and housing.

“For my mom and I’s sanity, I need to get out of DePaul as soon as possible,” Wieden said. “The quarters I did take five classes were really difficult but I kept telling myself it was to graduate early and save money.”

Senior Ceana Plurad will graduate with a bachelor’s in industrial-organizational psychology after only three years. She similarly took five classes each quarter, incorporating two-credit classes into her schedule that were unrelated to her major. To balance the constant stress of academia, Plurad used her dedication to the clubs and organizations she was in as a way to decompress after challenging weeks.

“It was those breaks where I’d be socializing at a club where I’d feel energized to start doing my schoolwork again in between,” Plurad said. “I also joke with friends that I try to find a new couch at DePaul to sleep on so I have those moments to shut off my brain before getting back to whatever I need to do.”

Aside from maxed out credit hours, Wieden believes her biggest challenge was the inability to balance her academics with outside responsibilities such as a job. Her major often required production courses with over 10 hours per week of homework. She would often dedicate 20 hours for each final.

“It felt like I was working a full time job and going to school at the same time, except the job was just my homework for school,” Wieden said. “I have extreme respect for anyone who goes to school full time and works a good 20 hours a week to pay their bills because it is tricky.”

Now that graduation is not just a distant dream, Lucas looks back on her time at DePaul with the realization that she may not be ready for what comes next. Despite being able to graduate with her degree after her junior year, she is choosing to stay at least an extra quarter to make up for the time she lost during Covid-19.

“This year feels like the first time I actually am reaping the benefits of the school and understanding how things work,” Lucas said. “I’m learning how to grow, how to network, and who the people are I want to work with in the future. I feel like I need more time with that, more time to be a college student, since a full year of my life here was taken away.”

Despite having almost completed her degree, Wieden does not feel prepared for a career after graduation. She was not taught many of the emerging animation programs necessary for a job in her desired field and now must fill in the gaps herself. Meanwhile, Plurad feels ready to leave DePaul even if she may not be ready for the work world. Her main goal was to get her education and now that she has accomplished it, she’s excited to see what comes next.

“As I get closer to spring quarter, I think I am ready to just keep moving forward,” Plurad said. “I like variety and change and constantly excelling so I’m ready for that. After everything I’ve done here in only three years, I don’t think an extra year would make me any more prepared than I am right now.”