Full of hope, excitement and confidence, members of the new class look to the future.
For the first time since 2019, first-year and transfer students marched down the “Welcome Walkway” to the claps and cheers of Jefferson faculty and staff.
The pandemic had paused the in-person Convocation ceremony held at the Gallagher Center, a rite of passage for new students entering the University.
Based on their confident smiles as they walked in, the Class of 2026 (and 2027 and 2028 for five- and six-year programs) seemed poised to begin their Jefferson journey.
During the Aug. 18 ceremony, University President Dr. Mark L. Tykocinski remarked on the excitement in the air and offered advice to the some 870 undergraduate students from 25 countries in attendance.
“The future does not belong to those who expect it to be like the past,” he says. “The future belongs to those who are ready to create it.”
“You’re joining a tight community of creatives, thinkers, doers, athletes and changemakers,” says the CEO and creative director of the Fath Collective. “We’re professionally driven and push the boundaries in all we do. We have opportunities to travel to where you never thought you would go and take chances of a lifetime. And I know from experience, we go to some pretty spectacular destinations.”
In another Convocation tradition, members of the incoming class nominated a remarkable educator who has impacted their academic lives.
Centennial Educator Award honorees included Katherine Chmelko, performing arts director at Philadelphia’s Nazareth Academy High School, nominated by exercise science student Allison Kowalchik; Jillian Smith, Jefferson graduate and sewing teacher at St. Hubert High School in Philly, nominated by fashion design student Eleana Garcia; and John Yacoub, athletic trainer and biological sciences teacher at Oakcrest High School in Mays Landing, N.J.
BS in exercise science to doctor of physical therapy student and soccer player Keagan Samuel says Yacoub helped him to break out of his shell in the classroom and on the field.
“He’s a great person to talk to,” Samuel says. “He’s part of the reason why I decided to go into the healthcare field. He has been instrumental in helping me find out who I am. I want to help people and be part of their success story.”
Samuel says he can’t wait to get to know his classmates and make connections at Jefferson.
“Starting somewhere new can be challenging, but with challenges come great success,” he says. “I want to get out there and express myself and what I can do.”
Twins Sarah and Jessica Mutchnick also shared their excitement about meeting people and exploring their fields. Interior design student Sarah and architecture student Jessica didn’t set out to attend Jefferson together. However, once they started touring schools, they both felt drawn to what East Falls Campus offered.
Jessica loved the idea of seeing a vision move from plans to a completed project, and the transformative nature of interior design inspired Sarah, the older sister by a minute.
“You can change someone’s living situation and make them so happy,” Sarah says.
Living down the hall from Jessica and Sarah, health sciences-physician assistant studies student Vidhi Desai says she always wanted to enter the healthcare field.
As a high school senior, she interned at a health clinic in Georgia. Desai shadowed an internal medicine physician and pediatric pulmonologist, learned how to take vitals and test hemoglobin, and saw how the office backend worked with billing, insurance and appointments.
She then deferred attending Jefferson for a year to enlist in the Army Reserve as a combat medic specialist.
“I knew being a medic would help in my civilian career,” Desai says. “In boot camp, I learned how independent I was, and a lot of my leadership skills were nurtured. I found myself looking after other trainees. It was a great way for me to see my true capabilities.”
Like Desai, classmate Omar Gomez Herrera felt his career calling at an early age.
“Growing up, I was always my mom’s go-to for picking out her outfits,” he says with a laugh. “She wouldn’t leave the house unless she had the green light from me.”
Gomez Herrera moved from Mexico to Charlottesville, Va., at 15 years old—a “terrifying” moment of his life, he shares.
“The experiences of a gay man always have been more difficult,” he says, “but I also was coming to a whole other country and learning a new language.”
Gomez Herrera’s nerves began to settle after he took fashion science in high school, and his inspiring teacher showed him all he could do in the field. “I knew that was it,” the fashion design student says. “It’s my passion.”
In winning Jefferson’s Portfolio Review Day Scholarship, Gomez Herrera’s submission spoke to the importance of sustainable fashion and holding major brands accountable for the widespread waste they cause and their environmental impact.
“With fast fashion, we’re losing the art of it and the stories we can tell through our collections,” he says. “We can take it back.”
Swipe through all the scenes from move-in and Convocation in the slideshow below.