AMES, Iowa — For someone as outgoing as Vincent Valeriano, the socially-distanced final semester of his adventure at Iowa State University has been difficult.
“This is a hard time to be an extrovert,” said Valeriano, a graduating senior in marketing from St. Charles, Illinois.
He joins more than 5,000 other ISU students graduating this spring who instead of walking across a stage on Saturday will join commencement ceremonies online. The virtual pomp and circumstance wraps up a semester that was dramatically altered partway through when Iowa State had to move all coursework online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Valeriano had a strange feeling on Friday, March 13. Iowa State had announced a temporary move to online instruction, and the news was full of other universities and businesses closing.
“I had a sinking feeling in my stomach that this was my last day as an undergrad as I’ve known it,” he said.
The next Wednesday, the decision was made that the remainder of Iowa State’s spring semester would be online.
“I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t sad, frustrated and disappointed about the way my senior year was ending,” he said. “This is a big capstone moment – especially for my family. They were especially invested in me walking in graduation, but I got the experiences for the most part that I wanted to get.”
It’s the little things he misses about being on campus: high-fiving friends between classes, hopping in a hammock, lounging on central campus and listening for the campanile’s bells every 15 minutes.
“It’s definitely been an adjustment,” he said. “FaceTime isn’t the same thing as seeing friends in person, but given everything going on, FaceTiming people is one of the most socially responsible things you can do while fulfilling your need to see friends.”
As he has kept up with the COVID-19 news cycle, Valeriano says he’s come to understand that “nothing in life is promised.”
“It made me appreciate all the moments I did have my senior year,” he said. “I didn’t go through it thinking I would ‘cheers’ to it all at the end. I went through it enjoying every moment, piece by piece.”
‘Loyal sons forever true…’
This same “live in the moment” mindset has been getting him through social distancing.
Throughout his time at Iowa State, Valeriano has served in several roles fit for an extrovert: Cyclone Aide, Cyclone Aide Adviser, Destination Iowa State Team Leader, George Washington Carver Scholar peer mentor, University Honors Program Undergraduate Assistant, and more.
He’s a dance instructor for the Cardinal Swing Society.
But staying home hasn’t stopped him from dancing.
Valeriano spotted a challenge circulating on social media, in which dancers around the world record themselves performing a choreographed routine with a bit of improvisation in the middle.
He’s posted two videos doing solo jazz at his home so far – both with a huge smile on his face.
He’s also a member of the Iowa Statesmen, Iowa State’s all-men’s choir.
On the last in-person day on campus, March 13, the Iowa Statesmen gathered one final time to sing the school songs, a tradition at the end of every rehearsal.
“We were supposed to be working on a piece for our concert in April, but our conductor, Dr. James Rodde, said, ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen … so how about we sing the fight songs,’” Valeriano said. “Singing that for the last time as seniors, it was an emotional moment for me.”
Coffee, cooking and community
After graduation, Valeriano will help his family move across the country before coming back to Ames. He’s gotten creative in his job searches during the pandemic, doing informational interviewing and reaching out to people whose jobs he finds interesting. Over the past few years, he has discovered a passion for cooking – from knowing nothing freshman year to now devouring blogs and videos about cooking, techniques and the science behind it all.
His goal is to work for a food publication.
In the meantime, when Morning Bell Coffee Roasters in downtown Ames is able to reopen, coffee-lovers will be able to snag a cup of joe from Valeriano on Sunday mornings.
The past several weeks have allowed Valeriano to reflect on his time as a Cyclone, from the education he’s received to the community he’s built in Ames to learning what it’s like to be one of few Filipino students at the university.
“Iowa State has been edifying,” he said. “What I have learned personally about myself and where I want to fit into the world, those are questions that I think about a lot. The experiences I’ve had here have really helped shape what those discussions look like.”