(This story first appeared in the September issue of The GēDUNK, Grove City College’s alumni magazine. You can read the entire issue online here.)
By Alyssa (Jackson ’19) Bootsma
The Class of 2020 will be remembered for being the first Grove City College graduates to earn their degrees in the midst of a global pandemic. Their ability to adapt and overcome their circumstances was an inspiration in a season of uncertainty, despair, and discovery. But that doesn’t do the College’s newest alumni justice.
“The overall story of the Class of 2020 is that they are amazing, wonderful individuals ever since freshman year and they stayed that way through adversity,” Dr. Constance (Nelson ’93) Nichols, Professor of Education, said. “Instead of self-pity, they asked themselves ‘How can I take care of others during this time?’ and then did just that.”
“This class especially delighted in celebrating one another’s accomplishments, and that’s why it was so devastating to see the last few months of college taken away from them,” Nichols said. “At the end of the day, a college such as ours is grounded on not just making a living but the ability to have a great life,” she said. “These graduates are people you would love to have as your neighbors and church members and friends.”
An example close to Nichols’ heart are the more than 30 education majors who were student teaching this spring. Instead of being concerned about the impact the pandemic would have on their grades or careers, they exceeded expectations to support teachers and their students with extra projects like creating science experiment videos to supplement regular lesson plans. For Sydney McCormick Student Teacher of the Year awardees Giulia Pucci ’20 of Butler, Pa., and Jordyn Pistilli ’20 of Vienna, Va., it was the best experience of college.
Pucci’s second teaching placement was almost entirely online. “I couldn’t have asked for a better experience,” she said. “Both my cooperating teachers within the schools and my professor supervisors handled the transitions with such grace – I learned how to be a flexible teacher and how to tackle any challenge that came my way.” The payoff, she said, was the reaction of her students. After watching a video series she spent 15 hours working on, one student said, “This was so fun! Could you make more?”
Pistilli did her student teaching in the fall, but she still had to do the paperwork to secure her certifications in the spring, which, according to Nichols, is no easy feat, especially without the ability to walk into a professor’s office for help. Despite the challenges, Pistilli and all the seniors were properly certified and most landed jobs for the fall. “As many of my fellow Class of 2020 grads can attest, finding a job in the middle of a pandemic was a daunting task,” Pistilli said. “But I was blessed to be hired for a full-time teaching position in Fairfax County Public Schools next year.”
Their last few months of college may always overshadow the rest of their time at the Grove, but the Class of 2020, like others before it, have a record of achievement beyond their individual transcripts. They got more than an education. Some became published authors in scientific journals. Some earned athletic accolades. Some turned entrepreneurial ventures incubated in the classroom turn into real businesses. Some discovered their faith while others grew in it. Some realized vocations they had never imagined. Some found spouses. They were all part of a community based on deep and transformative relationships with their fellow students, faculty, and staff.
Noah Gould ’20 of Granby, Mass., began novel economics research with Dr. Caleb Fuller ’13 on how regulation relates to corporate location. “The fact that he was able to balance this project with his final semester of college, especially amidst all the disruptions, speaks to his commitment, focus, and his mature understanding of how difficult good scholarship is,” Fuller said.
Despite his heavy academic burden, Gould spent some of his last semester producing with a friend a tongue-in-cheek email newsletter called The QuaranTimes. “We felt like a humorous take was needed and at one point had about a fifth of campus on our email list!” Gould said. Another initiative of Gould’s was the two-and-a-half years of his college career he spent writing the musical “Antigone & the King” with Micah Mooney ’20 of Sellersville, Pa., In January, the show had four sold-out performances, which were recorded for a cast album now available on streaming services. “Looking back, I am so thankful for the professors and students who invested so much in the process,” Gould said. “It speaks to the dedication of the Grove City College community that we were able to rehearse and put up the play.”
For Tyler Gustafson ’20 of Newburg, Pa., former SGA executive president, a memorable moment his freshman year shaped the rest of his college experience. “My brother, Cody, had received some offers to play football at the D2 level and had garnered interest from some D1 AA schools,” he said. But one night his freshman year, Gustafson got a phone call from his parents. “They told me that while they ate dinner, Cody said he wanted to go to Grove City College. When they asked why, he told them that I was there,” he said. “God has blessed me with a wonderful family and being able to share Grove City College with my siblings has been another great blessing.”
Gustafson values the relationships he built during his years at Grove City College, specifically the mentorship and wisdom of “President McNulty, Dr. James Thrasher ’80, my professors, advisors, and friends and the life lessons I learned from football Coach Andrew DiDonato ’10 had a profound impact on me,” he said. Since leaving campus in March, Gustafson said he missed these relationships the most.
Emily Stein ’20 of Monaca, Pa., remembers singing “Begone, Unbelief” in church her sophomore year. Since then, she kept a sticky note of a lyric on her laptop: “With Christ in the vessel, I smile at the storm.” “For the next two years, I saw those words each time I opened my laptop to type,” she said. In a speech she wrote in consideration for the student speaker spot at Commencement, Stein addressed the importance of relationships amidst the storms faced throughout college: “We have learned of the power of being surrounded by a strong community. We have learned how a true friend can change a life. We have learned how to seek out mentors to guide us.”
Grace Tarr ’20 of Brooklin, Maine, worked with The Collegian, the award-winning student newspaper, since her freshman year and served as the Editor-in-Chief in the spring. Despite being off-campus and across many states, the staff was still able to publish newspapers in an online format. “It was an important way to keep the campus connected and stay up to date with Grove City news despite our absence,” she said. The newspaper’s staff made many adjustments including focusing on one story. “Almost all of the issues were focused on how students were experiencing the pandemic in an effort to give a narrative to how Grovers were adapting for current students, but also as a historical account for later generations,” Tarr said.
That record is part of the Class of 2020’s enduring legacy at Grove City College, but it isn’t the whole of it.