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Reflecting on four years at UWL

Posted 9 a.m. Thursday, May 9, 2024

Maddie Kozel worked with University Marketing & Communications as a student writer throughout her four years at UWL. On Sunday, May 12, she will graduate with a bachelor's degree in English. But she leaves with much more than that, she says.

A journey that began during COVID ends with high hopes for the future

By Maddie Kozel, spring 2024 graduate

My first day of freshman year orientation was online. So was the second.

My first day of classes happened over Zoom. So did the first month.

My entire first semester happened in my dorm room in Coate Hall. My roommate and I luckily got along; otherwise, there would have been bickering over the closed spaces and shared class times.

I knew I wanted a job on campus, but I quickly realized it would be “on campus.” I applied for a writing position within University Marketing & Communications and was invited to join the team. Like everything else during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, I worked and met with my boss virtually.

Little happened in the classroom or any of the school buildings except for meal collection, as safety guidelines didn’t allow us to eat in the Whitney Dining Center. So we picked up our (already portioned and boxed) meals from the hot bar and brought them up to our rooms.

During meetings with our resident assistant, she informed us we were not allowed to have more than four people from the same residence hall in a room at a time. We were also advised not to visit other residence halls. Despite this, I was able to make a tight-knit group of friends, and we eventually signed a lease for our sophomore year.

In the spring of my freshman year, I finally had a hybrid class. We met once a week on Zoom and once a week in the classroom. It felt like college was finally starting.

Another one of my classes was in person, twice a week! I was able to get ready for the day and head to campus for a few hours (on Tuesdays and Thursdays), which was more exciting than I could have anticipated. Although we wore masks, I felt like I was beginning to build relationships with my peers in the English program and the professors I had just started meeting in person.

As she prepares to start graduate school in Milwaukee, Kozel says she will miss UWL and the La Crosse community.

Going into my sophomore year, I was pretty confident that my life at UWL could only go up. Spring semester of freshman year was one of the hardest periods of my life, for reasons ranging from isolation to class loads to personal experiences.

However, by fall of my sophomore year, my classes were almost entirely in person. Although I realized that I preferred hybrid style courses for some of my requirements, I started to fall in love with the education system at UWL.

Our campus is by far one of the prettiest I’ve ever seen, and I toured about 15 schools before even applying to La Crosse. The school had beautiful architecture and incredible resources for students to use, such as our fitness center, the study rooms and the Student Union (where I also worked for a few years). La Crosse felt small, though. Not many people were in my classes, and there wasn’t a huge crossing of people between classes near the clock tower. I had accepted that it just wasn’t that big of a university. I was wrong.

Junior year felt like my first “real” year of college. There were no more mask requirements, no more plexiglass on campus, no restrictions on sports games, club meetings or work activities. I wished it could have been this way the whole time.

Through my loss of “traditional” college experiences, I put more emphasis on the relationships with the people around me. It was more important than ever to find a close group of friends who genuinely cared for me and my future. I started to feel at home in La Crosse. I was comfortable with campus and the buildings, I knew where I was going when I walked downtown for coffee or lunch, and I became more confident in my relationships with peers and faculty. I realized that I had a place at UWL, and that my voice mattered to those around me.

My senior year has been the best year of my life (So far!). I have established a safe and reliable friend group, I feel comfortable with my position on campus, and I have solid plans for what I want to do in the future.

Coming into freshman year, I could have never imagined how well prepared I would be at the end of my undergraduate education. My courses have set me up not only for academic success, but for my communicative and interpersonal success in future jobs, classroom settings, and general society. I finally have an idea about all the possibilities my future holds.

After graduation, I will miss the city of La Crosse as well as the campus. My home is on Vine Street. But because of my experiences here, I have the confidence to move away — all the way to Milwaukee — and pursue a graduate degree.

The opportunities I have been presented with at UWL have provided me with a sense of capability and excitement for my future. I am ready to keep growing thanks to my four years of learning, both in and out of the classroom, here at La Crosse.


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