Reflections from the "COVID Class" as they graduate
Tuesday, February 27, 2024

The "COVID Class."

Not exactly the most sought-after moniker for a talented group of students who became freshmen at the University of Iowa in the fall of 2020. They likely don’t look fondly upon their nickname—or back at the experience—but many find solace in having pushed their way through the pandemic’s early months, knowing they are changed because of it and are now better prepared to face the future. 

When this class first arrived on campus, COVID-19 had already been declared a national emergency. In June, U.S. COVID cases had already reached 2 million. Schools around the country shut their doors; high schoolers did not attend prom or graduation. By the end of August, the Iowa governor ordered all bars to be shuttered. Vaccines were still months away. Human connection was difficult, particularly for these first-year students.

There was no crowded orientation where they could meet future friends and classmates. Rather, the semester began with little fanfare, by either logging on to a classroom Zoom from a lonely dorm desk, where many of their peers kept their cameras off; or by attending the rare in-person class, where desks were spaced six feet apart and everyone wore a mask. Athletic and cultural events were being canceled. Many students were contracting COVID and needed to isolate even further. 

Now seniors, this group looks forward to graduation; they speak of how COVID-era challenges taught them the hard lesson that life will present roadblocks, that at times they will be required to dig deep to find the motivation and will to persevere. In doing so, they established a legacy of success worth celebrating.

“They are heroes in their own right,” says Dean Amy Kristof-Brown. “Not many of us can say we had to jump over the kinds of hurdles these students did during their formative years of college. We applaud their strength and character and know the resilience that comes with it will help them tremendously, no matter what challenges they face down the road.” 


Emmanuel Akrasi Jr.
“Quietest kid in the class”

I’m looking forward to being with my family on 
commencement day the most because I 
certainly could not have done this without them.

Anna Bauer

Anna Bauer
Finance & Economics
“Most likely to be the first one to class”

Navigating uncertainties cultivated a mindset 
of flexibility and perseverance. I’ve found more
ways to learn, make connections, and communicate.

Isabela Bernhard

Isabela Bernhard
Marketing & Management 
“Most likely to be on a reality show”

I’m much better now at getting out of 
my comfort zone; I’m not afraid of 
things “going wrong,” because they 
already have. 

Sam Buol

Samantha Buol
Marketing & Event Management
“Most approachable”

The experience instilled a profound 
understanding that resilience and 
adaptability are essential life skills. 
I now frame challenges as opportunities
for growth.

Joel Castillo

Joel Castillo
“Most likely to be of great influence to many”

If there’s anything I have learned from being 
part of “the COVID Class,” it’s that if I put my
mind to anything, I am able to do it.


Regan Day

Regan Day
Marketing, Business Analytics, 
& Political Science
“Most likely to never skip class”

I truly believe that COVID playing such 
a large role in my freshman year made
 me much more grateful for all the years
 to follow. 

Ignacio Gomez

Ignacio Gomez
Economics & International Relations 
“Most likely to sleep through graduation”

Being part of the COVID class made me more 
outgoing. I had to seek the experiences I 
wanted and put myself out in the world.



Max Gonzalez

Maximus Gonzalez
"Most likely to brighten your day"

I am very excited to have an 
in-person commencement ceremony. 
Being able to see my family’s smiles
without masks is something that I 
didn’t get to experience during my 
high school graduation.

Grayson Kilburn

Grayson Kilburn
Marketing & Management
“Most school spirit”

I now have some of the best friends
I could have ever asked for, an engaging
internship, a connection with Tippie and
the entire University of Iowa, and lifelong
memories that I never thought would
have come out of the pandemic.

Katie Klassen

Katie Klassen
“Most optimistic”

Being a part of this class made me 
more motivated to try and to keep 
throwing things at the wall until 
something finally sticks, such as 
introducing myself to people in my 
classes or even just inviting people 
to coffee. The freshman class of
 2020 has a strong bond because
of what we went through.

Oanh Lam

Oanh Lam
“Most likely to know everyone in the room”

The impact of COVID-19 on my university 
experience has been profound, requiring 
a reevaluation of expectations and the 
cultivation of new strategies for success.




Lisa Lee

Lisa Lee
“Most future-oriented”

Having the common experience 
enabled us to bond with each other 
and share funny stories, like being 
surprised at each other’s uncovered faces! 
They are fond memories that I don’t 
necessarily miss, but cherish.



Nolan Pattison

Nolan Pattison
Finance & Business Analytics
“Dynamic Duo” [with friend Cole Arduser]

Going through COVID as a freshman gave 
me a greater appreciation for being around 
people in class, at sporting events, and 
around campus.


Aubrie Robel

Aubrie Robel
Marketing & Psychology
“Life of the party”

Everyone was collectively experiencing
a “new normal.” It helped knowing I was
not alone, and we would all get through 
it together.


Julia Saul

Julia Saul
Finance & Economics
“Most changed since freshman year”

My freshman year was full of constant
uncertainty and readjusting, and I just 
assumed that’s all college was. 
Until my sophomore year, I had no idea 
how fun college could be!


Molly Siebenaler
Marketing & Business Analytics
"Best eyes"

One of my strengths is being 
disciplined, and I thrive off structure.
Unknown and unexpected changes, 
like the ones that accompanied the
pandemic, challenged me to become 
more resilient.  



Crede Wernke

Crede Wernke
“Most likely to move to California”

We went from bettering ourselves in
a lot of ways to then coming together
and being better together.





Cael Woltman

Cael Woltmann
Finance & Accounting
“Most competitive”

One good thing that came out of 
COVID was that everyone was so 
eager to interact, it made it really 
easy to make new friends. I was also 
lucky to live on the business floor in 
Catlett, so the people I made friends 
with freshman year were already in the 
business school. 


Patricia Wozniak

Patricia Wozniak
“Most likely to cheer you up”

Not everything that resulted from 
COVID was negative; for example, 
I met my best friend freshman year
who was my roommate. Being 
isolated together allowed us to 
bond and become the friends that 
we are today.

Sarah Phan

Sarah Phan
"Most likely to make you laugh"

The shared experience of being a 
part of this class created a sense 
of camaraderie. We cheered each 
other on through challenging times 
and found humor during uncertainties!


McKenzie Turner

McKenzie Turner
"Most dedicated"






Quotations have been edited for brevity and clarity. 


This article appeared in the Spring 2024 issue of Tippie Magazine.

Photos by Justin Torner | University of Iowa.