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‘Minor Setback For What’s To Come’: Dillard University Senior Reflects On Fall Semester

Aubri Juhasz
Dinah Cador sits near Dillard University's Avenue of the Oaks after moving into her dorm on Aug. 14, 2020.

After college students were sent home in March and graduation ceremonies were canceled, Dinah Cador and her friends made a pact. If they returned to campus in the fall, they’d do everything in their power to prevent the spread of the virus. If they held to it — and if their classmates did, too — maybe they’d get to walk at their own graduation.

“My classmates and I were like, ‘Hey, we're not going to joke about this,’” Cador said. “We want to stick to the plan so that we can walk across the stage.”

Cador is a senior at Dillard, a small liberal arts school and historically Black university. Last year, there were fewer than 1,300 students on campus.

At the school’s campus in Gentilly, graduates typically walk between two rows of oak trees, known as the Avenue of the Oaks, before receiving their diplomas.

“That's something that I've looked forward to since the day that I stepped on this campus,” Cador said after returning to campus in August. “If I have to cut out the extracurricular to kind of just focus in on the duty part of here so that my classmates and I can walk down the Avenue of the Oaks, that's what I’ll do.”

With a week left in the semester, Cador was already home in Brusly, Louisiana where she lives with her grandparents.

Like many universities, Dillard decided to end classes before Thanksgiving and have students complete their final exams at home.

During the semester, Cador’s classes rotated between online and in-person. Cador studies biology and is applying to graduate programs. She said while completing online lab assignments was difficult, her professors have been understanding.

Cador can be her own biggest critic and she’s trying not to be so hard on herself.

“My family always says, ‘Let your works speak for you.’ So we’ve had the last three years in college to develop ourselves and this is a minor setback, I feel, for what’s to come,” Cador said.

But that doesn’t mean the fall semester was easy. Before COVID, Cador used to hang out with her friends all the time — carefree potlucks and study sessions, weekend parties and kickbacks.

Credit Aubri Juhasz / WWNO
Cador and her best friend Eric McGlothen on Dillard's campus in August.

She said this year has been different and the atmosphere on campus has changed. Even going to Dillard’s dining hall, Kearny, can be a stressful experience.

“We sit at a table that has us six feet apart and we eat,” Cador said. “We’re kind of in a hurry because we don't want to be in there too long without our masks on.”

Cador said despite the challenges she’s thankful to be living close to campus with friends nearby. Her friends have kept her grounded. Together they’ve found ways to make the most of their senior year.

“There have been times when I've just wanted to be like, ‘Screw everything.’ I just want to go out and have a good time,” Cador said. That’s when her friends step in to offer a safe alternative.

“My friends will be like, ‘OK, well, let's go get…some crawfish or something and go to the lake or go to the park,’” Cador said. “My friends and I definitely spent a lot of time outside this semester.”

During the fall semester, Dillard had very few cases of COVID-19. Over the span of four months, 18 students and employees tested positive for the virus. But Dillard can’t control the world beyond its gates.

With the latest surge in coronavirus cases both locally and nationally, Dillard decided to cancel its December graduation ceremony, a make-up from last spring.

Cador said she feels bad for the Class of 2020, especially first-generation college students for whom the accomplishment is even more significant. For now, she’s sticking to her pact and holding out hope that for the class of 2021 things will be different.

Aubri Juhasz covers K-12 education, focusing on charter schools, education funding, and other statewide issues. She also helps edit the station’s news coverage.

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