On March 12, 2020, the class of 2020 threw themselves an impulsive “fauxmencement” on the leafless quad, knowing that the real deal would have to wait until the pandemic slowed enough to return the world to normalcy, or at least normal-ish-cy. That bleak and chilly day, some classmates intrepidly wore their summer dresses for photos, shivered, then quickly put coats back on once the pose was over. Others showed up in bathrobes, as an ironic stand-in for graduation gowns. Several picked up downed twigs and branches, substituting them for the Conway canes.

On June 11, 2022, they got to forego the faux for this new tableau: sunshine, glorious greenery, a fully imagined ceremony, families in attendance, postponement turned to gratification. We stopped a few class members to find out what their postgrad lives looked like today. And we asked them — nearly three-quarters of the class had returned to campus — why they returned for this unprecedented occasion.  

Maki Ybarra-Young

Maki Ybarra-Young ’20

“Run with It!”

Mikayla “Maki” Ybarra-Young ’20, a theater and dance major, had “made peace with the fact that I wasn’t going to come,” but then she heard that Sarabeth Morgan, the high school teacher she’d nominated for a Phebe and Zephaniah Swift Moore Teaching award had been selected for the honor, “so now I’m here.” In her nomination form, Ybarra-Young recalled her time with Morgan at Bonner Springs High School in Bonner Springs, Kan.: “Every time Morgan saw us light up at a new subject or idea, she’d say: ‘Run with it!’” Morgan traveled north from Lawrence, Kan., and Ybarra-Young from Kansas City, Mo., where she currently works as an insurance agent and also part-time at FedEx. 


Avery Farmer, Henry McNeil, Noah Wheaton

Avery Farmer ’20, Henry McNeil ’20, Noah Wheaton ’20

When Avery Met Harry. And Noah

Avery Farmer ’20 (left) is at Harvard Law School these days; Henry (Harry) McNeil ’20 (middle) was working in finance in Brooklyn but just left his job. Noah Wheaton ’20 (right) came to Amherst from Washington, D.C., where he was doing clinical research and is about to start med school. And why did they choose to come to Commencement? Said Farmer: “I wanted to see everybody, not just the people who I see on a daily basis or reconnect with, but the people in the class who I haven’t seen for two years.” Said McNeil: “We left under very difficult circumstances. It’s the chance to come back here and see everybody again, and also celebrate with our families.” Added Wheaton: “For some people it’s a really big deal to graduate in the first place. And to also walk across the stage? It’s everything.”


Jeffrey Herr

Jeffrey Herr ’20

When in Aroma…

Jeffrey Herr ’20 lives in Philadelphia where he’s doing software engineering for a bank. He shared his thoughts on showing up for this unprecedented occasion: “I wanted to see all my friends and I wanted to see Amherst again, and I was excited to be in the dorms again. It’s been great. It’s bringing back a lot of memories, honestly. Just the smell of the dorms.” Smell? he is asked. Good or bad? “It’s kind of a benign smell. But it sends you right back to freshman year.”


Anne Malloy

Anne Malloy ’20

Ice and Easy

Anne Malloy ’20 played ice hockey at Amherst, and now she’s enrolled in the Physician Assistant Studies program at Rhode Island’s Bryant University. She came to Amherst from Canton, Mass., for Commencement. She explained her motivation: “Why come? I have not gotten to see my friends I played hockey with since we left in 2020. That was the last time the five of us were together. This was the first opportunity that we were all able to come together and see each other. So that is fantastic.”


 

Sarah Melanson

Sarah Melanson ’20

“A Good Way to Get Closure”

Sarah Melanson ’20 played ice hockey with Anne Malloy ’20, and is working at a law firm in Manhattan this summer, having finished her second of three years at the University of Connecticut School of Law. What motivated her to arrive back at Amherst? “It’s a good way to get some closure. I’d probably echo what Anne said: We haven’t been together in years and we left on a pretty weird term, so it’s good to come back and get to recapture the four years that we had here.”


Jenny Gallegos, Maria Aybar, and EliaHainish

(Left to right) Jenny Gallegos ’20, Maria Aybar ’20, and Elia Hanish ’20

“I Want My Sister to See Me Graduate”

When Jenny Gallegos ’20 (left), was asked why she showed up today, she said: “To get the experience that we didn’t get in 2020. To graduate. And to get the[Conway] Cane!” Gallegos is currently working as a technician for the Inova Health system in northern Virginia, while Maria Aybar ’20 (center) is working in Lowell, Mass., at a community college. “I’m a transfer student, so I just wanted to get the experience to be here,” said Aybar. “It took me a little bit longer to complete my education. To be here and to celebrate with my family, especially my mom, means a lot.” Elia Hanish ’20 (right) is from Bakersfield, Calif., but traveled to the College from New Haven, Conn., where she is a research associate at Yale University School of Medicine.

Said Hanish: “I wanted to come and see some friends, but also my sister came—and she’s the reason I went to school. I want her to see me graduate.”


Bree Barne, Lanelle Nwogalanya,  NicoleFortune, MiaNicholson

(Left to right) Lanelle Nwogalanya ’20, Bree Barnes ’20,  Nicole Fortune ’20 and Mia Nicholson ’20

Four Ever

Why did this quartet quit home for Amherst today? Barnes, who is living in Oakland, Calif., and working at Meta as a project coordinator, said: “I just really wanted to see my friends.” Nwogalanya came from Atlanta, Ga., where she’s about to start a master’s in public health program. She said: “Part of it is the closure of finally getting our Commencement. And also it’s so lovely to touch base with everyone that we haven’t seen in two years.” Fortune, who is living in the Harlem neighborhood of New York and teaching in nearby South Bronx, said: “We deserve it and I missed everyone. I missed campus.” Nicholson is in New York and getting a master’s in actuarial science and working at an insurance company: “I missed all of my friends and I wanted to have this moment together. I never actually got to wear a cap and gown in my high school graduation—so I wanted to do that today!”


Tracy Chen

Tracy Chen ’20

She Feels Pratt-y

Tracy Chen ’20 got a kick out of seeing the Charles Pratt Dormitory again now, with new context, since she’s getting her master’s degree in information experience design at Pratt Institute, which was founded by Pratt, a member of the class of 1879, in 1887. She traveled to Amherst from New York, where she is also a project design intern at the tech company MongoDB. Of this unusual Commencement, she said: “It’s just fun being able to actually walk and see your other classmates, and fun staying in the dorms again, and everything was so well organized.”


Jason Greenfield and Emma Wilfert

(Left to right) Jason Greenfield ’20 and Emma Wilfert ’20

“To Give It That Capstone Moment We Never Got”

After being told he rocked that bowtie, Jason Greenfield ’20 (left) ventured an opinion for why he ventured here today. “I wanted to celebrate this great class and also appreciate my parents, and give them an opportunity to celebrate—and give it that capstone moment that we never got.” Jason is living in Boston and working remotely as a research engineer at New York University’s Center for Social Media and Politics. Emma Wilfert ’20 (right) is also living in Boston, but is about to move to New York to start at Columbia University Law School. She said she had “very similar sentiments” to Jason, adding it was great to be “seeing people I haven’t seen in a while, and seeing places I haven’t seen in a while.”


Camilo Ortiz

Camilo Ortiz ’20

The Surreal Thing

What’s it like being back on campus? “It’s a little surreal,” said Camilo Ortiz ’20. “Especially given the fact that we’re living in our first-year dorms, and it feels a little strange.” Ortiz traveled to Amherst from Chicago, where he works as a software engineer at Google. Q: What made him decide to come back? A: “Well, I couldn’t miss it!”

Elizabeth Kobelski and Zehra Madhavan

(Left to right) Elizabeth Kobelski ’20 and Zehra Madhavan ’20

“Kind of Like a Reunion”

Elizabeth Kobelski ’20 (left) and Zehra Madhavan ’20 both said they loved seeing their friends and just having fun. Kobelski is a software engineer in Andover, Mass., and revealed that she’s getting married in the fall. Madhavan is living in New York, working for Aon as an insurance broker, and had this to say: “It’s so nice to celebrate, since we didn’t get it in 2020. It’s kind of like a reunion.”