Spring 2020 undergraduate student commencement speaker Malaika Michel-Fuller shares her thoughts and insights as May commencement ceremonies were canceled because of the coronavirus.

Spring 2020 undergraduate student commencement speaker Malaika Michel-Fuller shares her thoughts and insights as May commencement ceremonies were canceled because of the coronavirus.

Before the coronavirus, as an English major and a senior getting ready to graduate from UNC, I was speeding toward graduation laser-focused on my future. I interned for a hardworking state senator, I held student government office, and I nannied for a lovely family. I was writing a senior thesis, attempting to pick a graduate school, juggling a full course load, and planning my graduation party. Then, everything was abruptly shut down and canceled. I felt disappointed, helpless and demotivated. This is the feeling for many Bear graduates; special moments were unexpectedly stolen from us. With no one to blame but a virus, this robbery feels especially frustrating.

I am a glass-three-quarters-full type of person. Ceremony or not, I’ll soon be the first person in my family to graduate from college. And I’ve been accepted and funded to pursue my graduate school dreams. I poured four years of my life into UNC, and it gifted me with lifelong friends and mentors; a worldwide community of Bears; and the access, support and opportunities to chase what I wanted in life. Now, I’m reflecting and remembering the good, and hoping for the better. I spend time baking, journaling and chatting on extra-long phone calls with the ones I love. Once classwork is done and my remote internship duties are checked off, activities like the stack of books I saved to read this summer and the 30-day yoga challenge playlist on my YouTube account are the focuses of my attention and energy.

Not every minute is heartening. Sometimes I lay on my couch, I stare at the ceiling, and I listen to music for hours, thinking about everything and nothing at all. There are days I wake up exhausted and emotionally drained even though I am sleeping many more hours than before. I am still adjusting to engaging with professors in online lectures and seeing my classmates only through screens. I miss walking home when the sun sets over “Northern Vision” and watching the campus landscape change with the seasons. This is a grueling time to be a college student. We’re at the precipice of extraordinary change in our lives, and we’ve built up anticipation within ourselves based on what’s to come in our bright futures.

However, I continue to marvel at the ways students uplift one another. The student staff at the Office of Clubs and Organizations are soliciting online messages and artwork to create handwritten cards to send to nursing homes, hospitals and students still living on campus (see page 18 for more about the UNC Card Campaign). Performing and Visual Arts students have designed new ways to showcase exhibits and recitals and continue to deliver art to the campus community. Residence halls host virtual study groups and Netflix parties to keep bonds strong no matter the distance.

This is what it means to be a UNC student at this moment in history. We are flexible, creative, empathetic and resilient. We are Bears, and we will rise together.  UNC

–By Malaika Michel-Fuller ’20

Malaika Michel-Fuller earned her degree in English, with a minor in Sociology, and with emphases in Secondary Education and Teaching English as a Second Language. She was chosen as the spring 2020 undergraduate commencement speaker. Her passion lies within civic engagement; she enjoys contributing to the education and empowerment of others to promote community-engaged social change. A McNair Scholar, she conducted undergraduate research investigating cultural competency practices in disaster response organizations. She was also a founder and president of UNC’s chapter of IGNITE: a national, nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to increasing gender parity in government. Michel-Fuller takes great pride in being a UNC Bear and, as a student, has sought opportunities to enhance the quality of life for current students on campus and for future Bears in the community. She has supported the education of high school students as an AVID tutor, partnered with Vice President Rodriguez on the board for Campus, Community, and Climate, and advocated for just scholarly practices as a student representative on the President’s Academic Portfolio Task Force. Whether leading chants at Take Back the Night rallies or facilitating professional development workshops for incoming first-year students as a LeadOn Camp facilitator, Michel-Fuller invested in the collective welfare of her peers, colleagues and fellow citizens.