UWF class of 2021 gives one last word of advice
December 13, 2021
Growing up in the United States most young adults have a life map encapsulating the basic steps from grade school to college of how society expects you to proceed in life.
Those steps are pretty basic: finish grade school, go to college and then graduate with a degree in something you intend to pursue for your future career.
However, that life map usually gets a lot more complicated once you’ve received your degree. Do you further your education? Do you move away? Do you jump directly into a full-time position? Does it matter if that full-time position is in your desired field? Do you get married and start a family? Or none of the above?
This part of life can be perceived differently by everyone. Some of us may see the endless possibilities with excitement because that means you can technically pursue anything and everything you want to. While others may have liked the simplicity of the societal life map they were given and see the endless possibilities as an intimidating task to overcome.
No matter how you view life after college it’s a reality we will all inevitably face. Some a little sooner than others.
This is the last week of the 2021 Fall semester and almost every student is in full finals mode; staying up extra late in the library, drinking way too much caffeine and hoping that when they click “submit assignment” the outcome matches their efforts. Most students are holding their breath, just waiting for the semester to be over to enjoy their break and eventually start preparing for next semester.
However, for some there is no next semester.
The graduating class of Fall 2021 will submit assignments to Canvas for the last time this week. As other students start their winter break, these students will be breaking free of the life map they’ve been handed and starting a completely new chapter in their lives. I spoke with some of these students and although each one had their own individual, unique college experience there were a few instrumental aspects of UWF that helped motivate them and cultivate their Argo pride.
Jennifer Bessler is an upcoming graduate who started her college career at UWF as a general business major.
“I went here because my aunt showed me the campus and I ended up falling in love with it and the people I met. It was also the perfect distance from home,” Bessler said. “I started as a general business major not knowing what I wanted to do and now I’ll be graduating with a degree in human resources management.”
Bessler was able to find her true calling and passion through the helpful resources provided by UWF such as the career services department, which helped her declare her major. Along with Handshake, a helpful tool to help college students find careers and internships like the one Bessler secured for herself.
“After I graduate I plan to move to Maryland for a full-time position with the department of the defense agency,” Bessler said. “The same one I originally had an internship with this past summer.”
The involvement opportunities UWF provides for its students also seemed to be one of the most popular experiences upcoming graduates had to reflect on. Bessler was involved in the Kappa Delta sorority, Student Ambassadors, Resident Hall Association and UWF’s Housing and Residence Life.
“Getting involved and making all the connections with different students, professors, and the staff was my favorite part about UWF,” Bessler said. “I don’t think my experience would have been anywhere close to the same if I went somewhere else.”
Like Bessler, Jordan Kleinschmidt will also graduate with a hefty load of experience due to her involvement at UWF. Kleinschmidt will be receiving her degree in marine biology, which is what initially attracted her to UWF.
“The marine biology program is what brought me here but I also loved how the campus environment felt when I toured and I knew I’d be able to easily get involved and make friends on campus,” Kleinschmidt said.
Unlike a good handful of college students, Kleinschmidt had a game plan ready before she even made it into college. It has been Kleinschmidt’s dream to become a marine biologist since she was little and UWF helped her get amazing experience and a publication in a scientific journal so that she could easily do so.
“UWF has helped prepare me for my field through its undergraduate research program where I’ve gained a multitude of field and lab skills from this program as well as an extensive network of faculty and peers moving forward into the professional field,” Kleinschmidt said. “I’m going to miss the lab I’ve gotten to work in the past 3 years the most after graduation.”
After graduation Kleinschmidt plans to move to Tampa to start her new job at the Florida Aquarium as an educator. This gives her the opportunity to teach visitors about the animals exhibited at the aquarium.
Regardless of the time, Kleinschmidt dedicated to her research she also made her social experience a priority. Kleinschmidt was an orientation leader, a sister of Alpha Delta Pi sorority and functioned as the Vice President of Membership for UWF Panhellenic.
“My social experience was absolutely incredible,” Kleinschmidt said. “I came in hoping to make a few friends and now have my college friends as bridesmaids in my wedding, future coworkers and I know I will have these people for life! Campus life provided so many fun events from sporting events to fun socials on campus, it’s truly the best campus.”
Upcoming graduate, Paula Hough also chatted about her social experiences here at UWF and how they created some of her favorite college memories.
“The 2019 Homecoming Colchis concert was a really good experience and memory for me,” Hough said. “My friends convinced me to go and I am really happy they did because I had a lot of fun.”
Most of the upcoming graduates admired UWF for how open and inclusive our student body is. No matter where you are from, what your major is, or what role you play on campus, if any, everyone is here to make friends and enjoy this journey alongside each other.
“One of my favorite things about UWF is how close this student body is,” Hough said. “Since I’m not from Pensacola I joined Greek life to make friends and because of that experience, I have become friends with so many people who are so loving and friendly. The UWF community feels really strong and close because you are able to become friends with so many people.”
Hough came to UWF as a finance major, but like many of us do in our first couple of semesters she realized that finance wasn’t the right fit for her. Hough is now seeking a degree in comprehensive marketing and has attained a position after graduation in the emergency room as a registration administrator.
Hough talked about how even though graduating is an exciting milestone and she has a solid plan lined up for herself, it doesn’t take away from the fact that her life is about to change immensely and that adjusting from the life of a student to the life in the workforce will take some time to get used to.
“I’m excited but I still have moments of oh my god it’s really happening,” Hough said. “I still check canvas to make sure I don’t have any assignments because I feel like I’m forgetting something.”
Jaren Lawhon also understands the surreal feeling graduation can bring. When he first came to UWF he felt like it was a fresh start, like he had the opportunity to make a new name for himself. Lawhon chose UWF because it was far away from his hometown, but still close enough to where he could visit family whenever he wanted to.
Now, just days away from graduation Lawhon has mixed feelings about moving forward.
“It honestly doesn’t quite feel real yet,” Lawhon said. “I feel like I did make that name for myself though and I know a lot of people here and have made a lot of connections, I just don’t know how to feel about it all yet.”
“I think it will start to feel real when I walk across the stage at graduation and once I move out of my current living situation with my fraternity brothers,” Lawhon said.
Lawhon is a brother of the West Florida Kappa Sigma fraternity. Their organization decided to unaffiliate from the university in 2019 and have been operating on their own successfully ever since. As a unique experience in itself, Lawhon was able to sweeten the journey by living with a few of his fraternity brothers.
“It’s like living in the dorms but so much better,” Lawhon explained. “Dorms allow you to live with all your friends and make those key memories, but they have all the dumb rules and tiny rooms. Here I get a full-size bed, with no rules, and I can walk into our living room to mess with all my best friends just the same.”
However, when asked what he was going to miss the most about UWF it wasn’t the partying or any other typical “frat” response.
“The atmosphere of college in general,” Lawhon said. “Like the feeling of still having plenty of time to figure things out.”
Lawhon, who will receive a degree in mechanical engineering, plans to graduate and take his time weighing options for the best possible career path.
“I’m still trying to figure it out,” Lawhon laughed. “I have a few options for jobs I am currently interested in, I just want to find one that has good pay and a fun location for me to live in. I’m not super picky about what my title or position is, I just want the pay to meet a minimum requirement for my level of education and the experience I already have.”
Outside of his fraternity, Lawhon took on two internships throughout his college career with general dynamics. These internships provided him with great engineering experience that he plans to put to use in his future endeavors.
Zack Zambri is an upcoming graduate seeking a degree in communications with a focus on film. While Lawhon used his internships to fuel his future career plans, Zambri was able to gain experience and an acquired love for his field through the friendships he’s made on campus.
“I’ve always liked movies and tv so that helped but I chose this route largely because of the people I met here,” Zambri told me. “My friends Casey Glazer and Connor Weihert are interested in that field and helped show me that it was a realistic field to pursue.”
Zambri grew up in Orlando and as everyone he knew enrolled at the University of Central Florida, he wanted a fresh start and saw UWF as just that.
As for life after graduation, Zambri is approaching it in a similar fashion to Lawhon.
“I’m not totally sure yet where I am going right after graduation,” Zambri said. “It’s pretty vague but anything with movies or tv would be cool to me maybe a cameraman, I am still working on figuring that part out.”
Film and television are a competitive market to get started in but Zambri believes that UWF did what they could to prepare him for the real world. Professors in the communications department try their best to give students plenty of hands-on experience before they graduate and having free, accessible equipment at our disposal definitely helps.
Regardless of the resources given, no student, let alone a university could have prepared us for a world after a global pandemic.
“I think the whole pandemic threw things off and that the world is a bit different now making it hard for any previous college experience to prepare me for something so new,” Zambri said.
Many students explained that they felt slightly cheated out of some crucial college experiences due to the changes COVID-19 brought to campuses across the country.
“The experience in college just hasn’t been the same at all,” Zambri said. “I’m sure bigger schools with more funding had more to work with but even then I think students saw the same effects everywhere.”
Nevertheless, the fresh-start Zambri came searching for was attainable.
“I wouldn’t have grown as much socially if I went somewhere else,” Zambri said. “UWF really allowed me to venture into other groups more than I would’ve anywhere else so, overall I am very happy I came here and experienced college despite COVID messing with it a little bit.”
COVID-19 may have been one of the last things college students are expected to endure while in school. Some classes were switched to navigate virtually while others remained in-person, just with fewer classmates and added facial accessories. Regardless, UWF came together as a community to help each other through it and the diplomas these graduates receive will be proof that they were able to persevere through the unimaginable.
It would be natural to expect COVID-19 as one of the most unimaginable events to occur during a college career, but for upcoming graduate, Luke Selogy, his most unimaginable was far more heartwarming.
“It has been an incredible journey and I am so thankful for all the friends and memories that I have made here,” Selogy said. “But my favorite thing would probably be that I met my fiance here! She was by far my favorite discovery.”
Selogy boasted about meeting his fiance through the Baptist Collegiate Ministries (BCM) which he functioned as the President of this year.
“The first time we met was at BCM but we didn’t talk much,” he explained. “We later went on a trip with mutual friends together and that’s when we started talking more and becoming closer friends.”
Selogy is originally from Ohio and would vacation in Pensacola so UWF seemed like a great location to complete his degree. The campus led him not only to his fiance but also to amazing connections with friends and professors.
“In a campus-specific case, something I’m most thankful for would be how helpful the professors are,” Selgoy said. “They really are your friends and advocates if you reach out to them and they’ve been a great help in guiding me throughout college.”
Selogy will receive his degree in accounting, originally his dad’s career as a certified public accountant played an influence on his decision to pursue that career, however, over time Selogy picked up on experience from UWF that made him feel like accounting was a great career path. The constant communication and support he received from the professors that he now views as his friends helped motivate him to succeed. Along with the leadership skills he was able to improve on during his time as the BCM president.
“I am blessed that God gave me those friends and allowed me to graduate and move forward,” Selogy said. “I am very excited to graduate.”
Although nerves may be setting in for the real world the graduates I spoke with are confident in the skills they were all able to develop while attending UWF. Each student praised UWF for providing them with unbelievable resources and involvement opportunities, as well as the connections and memories they will walk away with and cherish for the rest of their lives. Every student has their own individual plan and UWF does its best to help foster whatever it took to drive these students past the finish line.
When talking with these students who reminiscened about their overall experience here at UWF and none could help but talk about how far they have all come from when they first step foot on UWF’s campus. So, I asked them: if you could give some advice to the incoming freshmen who will also one day be faced with everything you had to conquer, what would you say?
These were their answers:
“Don’t let freshman year define you and be true to yourself and your values” Friends will come and go throughout your 4 years but the real ones will make it all the way through. You don’t need to have your whole life figured out because your plan will change. Just love and live every moment.” -Jen Bessler
“Don’t rush things. It’s cliche but before you know it you’ll be walking the stage at graduation wondering where the time went. Join the club, go to the event, volunteer, and soak every ounce of college up because you’ll blink, and it’ll be over.” –Jordan Kleinschmidt
“Never be afraid to do something on your own. I’ve made friends by just going to events alone and started talking to people. Also, don’t take an 8 AM unless it’s with Bob Kimball.” –Paula Hough
“You can always retake a class but you can never relive a moment.” –Jaren Lawhon
“Really enjoy it because it goes by way faster than you think it does. Whatever you put into this campus you’ll get out of it in return. Meet as many people as you can, there’s a lot that has lived some cool lives and you should try to be a part of that.” –Zack Zambri
“Talk to your professors. They will help you out and they want you to succeed, not fail. Also, I would study a week ahead of time for exams. It really does make a huge difference.” –Luke Selogy
Congratulations to the fall graduating class of 2021, you made it!