Four years ago, I graduated from high school. I remember experiencing conflicting emotions, both the pride of academic achievement and the questions about where to go to college and what to study. Family and friends often asked me, what do you want to be? Because whatever I wanted to be must transfer into what I study in college, right?

All I knew was that I wanted to go to UMBC, but not because of its stellar academics, social life, or diverse student population — which, of course, I became well acquainted with during my time here. I chose UMBC because it was a 15-minute drive from my house and I wanted to stay near my family and my friends.

Celebrating with my two loving and supportive parents following the commencement ceremony.

Attending UMBC has become somewhat of a family tradition. Elisabeth Cruz ’13, English, was the first of my five siblings to graduate from UMBC. She was soon followed by my brother James Cruz ’16, mechanical engineering. I am the third in my family to graduate from UMBC with my younger sister, Karyn Cruz ’20, graphic design, close behind. Of course none of this would be possible without the support from our parents. I guess you could say black and gold pride runs in my family.

Now that I have graduated from UMBC with a Bachelor’s degree in English, I am facing similar questions to those I did at the end of high school: What will you do now? What kind of job do you want with an English degree? Unlike my commencement from high school four years ago, I have no answers as of yet.

But no matter what my future outside UMBC holds, my final year here was truly a memorable one for the whole black and gold community. UMBC produced its first Rhodes scholar, enjoyed a history-making NCAA run by the men’s basketball team, saw the return of our Commencement ceremonies to campus with the completion of the Event Center, and was recently listed in the top 3.5% of universities worldwide by a global ranking.

This is truly an exciting time to be a Retriever, which makes my graduation that much more bittersweet. Commencement felt almost surreal as my four years here went by so fast. I so much enjoyed my experiences here pursuing a degree in English, relishing new challenges and new triumphs each semester. One example is public speaking.

When I started at UMBC, I hated public speaking. But throughout my time here, I delivered so many class presentations I lost count. Each one felt like a triumph; no matter how long (I remember one of my presentations had to be a full hour) or how short, it always took the same amount of courage to address a class. There was also a time when I struggled with writing, particularly creative writing. However, my studying English forced me to practice all kinds of writing and communication skills, and in facing these particular challenges at UMBC, I learned the valuable lesson that challenges pay off in the long run.

My Final Weeks

The weeks leading up to Commencement were crazy but wonderful. It was crazy to think everything I was working on here was wrapping up. My last semester of classes neared its end much like previous semesters; the workload felt overwhelming. But, of course, the difference was the fact that it was my last time facing the stress of final projects and examinations. Also, my internship with UMBC Magazine, which had lasted during my whole senior year, was soon to end. But there is something wonderful about knowing that no matter what happens after UMBC, I continue to enjoy the support of this community in the form of friendships with my UMBC peers, former professors, and magazine staff. I know that my experiences here, while difficult to leave, have prepared me well for my future.

Graduation dinner with my family and boyfriend, Alex.

Commencement is the honored celebration of ending one chapter with the beginning of the next. While I do not yet have concrete plans regarding a career with my degree, I am fully confident in the skills I have developed, the connections I have made, and the resulting confidence in my education during my time at UMBC. I currently enjoy incredible support from my dear family and friends moving forward, and I am encouraged by President Freeman Hrabowski’s words to the UMBC community after the Retrievers’ Cinderella run in the NCAA Tournament: “They said could not be done because it has never been done – and then we did it.” As I am now a proud UMBC alumna, I know going forward that I could not have received better preparation and education than that here at UMBC.

At the top: The moment I was most excited for…shaking hands with President Freeman Hrabowski!

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Allison Cruz ’18, English, served as UMBC Magazine’s editorial intern during her senior year. We wish her the best of luck in all she does, and hope she comes back to visit often!

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