UT’s 2021 Graduating Class Leaves a Campus that Became Almost Unrecognizable During the Pandemic

When the class of 2021 enrolled at UT, most members likely pictured a typical graduation day: crossing the stage in sweltering midday heat, hugging pals under the UT Tower, cramming together for selfies on the Main Mall. Though the pandemic transformed the back half of their undergraduate days on the Forty Acres—and similarly their final cathartic moment at commencement, this year held inside DKR–Texas Memorial Stadium—the class of 2021 persevered, finding common solace in their newly minted degrees and a world that is (slowly) returning to normalcy. We captured more than a dozen of them at the Great Texas Exit as they made their way toward the real world. 

Montavius Coleman | BS, BA ’21, Life Member  

“From moving into my dorm during Hurricane Harvey to the pandemic, and then ‘Snowmageddon,’ there were times when I questioned why I was doing this.Now I am so proud of my own perseverance.” 

Ariana Reyes | MA ’21 

“I struggled throughout high school and undergrad. Getting my master’s from UT did not seem like it was possible—but I did it. Even though I just officially graduated, it still feels very surreal.” 

Ryan Tomita | BS ’21, Life Member 

“I started at UT with no connections and quite far from home, so I am very grateful for all the wonderful friends I have made along the way who introduced me to Texas.” 

Meena Pyatt | BA ’21, Life Member 

“Some of my favorite moments came from the simplest interactions. I miss the leisure moments of sitting on the lawn after class and spending time with friends on campus.” 

Abigail Braun | BS ’21 

“Getting to UT was an accomplishment in and of itself, but now looking back at all the work I put in during my four years here, I’m honestly most excited about who I have become.” 

Michael Silva | MA ’21, Life Member 

“I’m proud of the obstacles I overcame, including the pandemic and a tornado that ripped the roof off our home. Having my kids, Ava and Cole, and my wife Regina—the bright light of our family—at my pinning ceremony was a really special moment.” 

Lilibeth Ramírez | BS ’21 

“Due to my grit and resiliency, I was able to beat the odds. I held leadership positions, studied abroad, and earned a 4.0 GPA. As a first-generation Latina raised by a single mother, I dream of assisting other students in breaking through barriers.” 

Van Hagye | BS ’21 

“UT offered me a vast network of people and resources that I’m proud of myself for taking advantage of. Oh, and I’ll never forget running around Clark Field during the 2017 snow day.” 

Matthew R. Ochoa | EMPL ’20, Life Member 

“Being in professor Jeremi Suri’s ‘Strategic Leadership and Decision-Making’ course during historical moments and reflecting on them with a diverse cohort is something I’ll never forget.” 

Brianna Tovar | BA ’21, Life Member 

“After finishing my degree in three years, at the age of 20, during a pandemic—I’m heading to California this fall for law school!” 

Hugo Gutierrez | BBA ’21 

“I feel proud to think about the overall amount of individual growth and experience I received while earning my degree—and I’ll never forget my semester studying abroad in Athens, Greece.” 

Kamari Esquerra | BJ ’21, Life Member 

“I was a Disney Professional Intern twice during college. I’m looking forward to joining my local TV station as a news reporter and anchor.” 

Samuel Bellessa | BJ ’21, Life Member 

“I am most proud of getting to meet people of all different backgrounds and learn their stories.” 

Morgan Whisenhunt | BA ’21, Life Member 

“I stepped out of my comfort zone in a way I had never done before. My degrees have ignited in me a fire for learning new things and exchanging ideas.” 

Photos by Matt Wright-Steel


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