Pandemic Stories: First-generation Cal Poly student, Erika Collucci, hit hard by cancelled graduation

Though I knew Erika Collucci going into this project, I really had no idea of the impact her first-generation status had on her college experience, coronavirus-aside. Being a senior and approaching this story with the background of currently experiencing the loss of my final moments of college, I knew telling the story of Collucci and her fellow first-generation graduates was even more important than ever before. Graduation meant the culmination of her achievements, from holding leadership positions in both PolyReps and her sorority, Collucci has made the most of her college experience.

In our interviews, she remained as open and honest about the situation as she could, but in the end, Collucci made it clear that the overarching saving grace in her perseverance during this time has been the fact that she is not alone.

“Every single college student in America who should have been graduating this spring is going through the same thing. So it’s not like I didn’t submit paperwork in time and I get to watch my friends do something I should have done,” said Collucci. “We’re all in this together so I think anyone graduating in the year 2020, whether it’s a senior in high school or a senior in college, we’re always going to remember it, and hopefully they’re going to have a way to make up for it so we can put our energy towards that.”

For one, hearing the Collucci’s disappointment first hand was a very grounding experience, as Emma and I are both among the vast majority of Cal Poly students who have faced relatively few struggles regarding the college process. I am very aware, even more so after working on this project, that I have never had to figure out the intricacies of applying to and succeeding in college on my own. My parents were available to give me advice at most turns. This is obviously not the case for most students, especially nationwide, and I’m glad that Emma and I had the opportunity to give some perspective on the emotions surrounding spring graduation.

As for the process, I was very lucky. My partner-in-storytelling and video-editor extraordinaire, Emma Roellig, has been sorority sisters and housemates with Collucci for the last three years and even got to experience her birth country when they took classes abroad together. Having someone so close to our subject to be the one to interview them on a topic that is particularly sensitive to Erika was an incredible experience to even play a small role in.

Emma was able to sit down with someone she sees every day and shares casual conversations about grocery shopping with. “This project gave me the chance to actually sit down with Erika and ask her how she’s genuinely holding up,” said Emma.

The most impactful thing both Emma and I took away from this project was the fact that despite all the disappointment and frustration, no one will ever be able to take away our education, especially those who have fought long and hard to earn it.