My name is Gabrielle Brathwaite, and I am a member of the class of 2020, graduating with a degree in industrial and operations engineering. I am also a LEAD scholar.
This has been my most challenging year during my time at the University of Michigan. I want to thank you for supporting the LEAD Scholarship Program even through these tough times.
The coronavirus outbreak and the events surrounding it changed the course of what began as a normal year. Classes were going well, and I particularly enjoyed my senior design class. I was soaking up every opportunity to hang out with my friends because I knew this would be our last semester together before heading out into the world. I didn’t realize how soon our time together would be cut short.
Things started to shift when we returned from spring break. There were whispers about how the coronavirus had finally touched down in the U.S., but none of us expected it to change everything so quickly. I went back to class on Monday, March 9, and on Wednesday, took what would turn out to be my last in-person class at U-M. Two days later, President Schlissel sent the email that solidified the seriousness of the pandemic. Spring Commencement was canceled. This news about graduation, a goal I had worked so hard to reach, crushed me. Upon further reflection, I realized that it was necessary in order to keep everyone safe, even though it still hurt.
Remote lectures began, and there were growing pains, but overall everything was going well. Then, on Tuesday night, March 17, I found out my grandmother had passed away. The fact that everything happened in such rapid succession made it even worse. That weekend, I left Michigan and flew back home to New York for the funeral. My time in Ann Arbor ended very abruptly, and I felt like I never had the chance to say a proper goodbye.
Even though March was a difficult month filled with a lot of curveballs, I am thankful to my LEAD community for the support they provided me. Our LEAD Advisory Board sent emails to all the LEAD Scholars filled with tips and advice to help us transition to remote classes. The program team sent emails checking in on us and even hosted remote office hours. The outpouring of support and resources the LEAD program offered helped make a difficult situation far less difficult, and for that, I am extremely thankful.
Throughout my time at U-M, LEAD has provided me with valuable experiences and resources that go beyond financial support. From my first month here, at the LEAD freshman retreat, LEAD has made me feel welcomed and included. The LEAD program gave me a safe space to vent to my peers and share our struggles and triumphs of being minorities on this campus. More importantly, LEAD has given me lifelong friends I am grateful for who shared my college journey. Because of LEAD, I have learned the value of a strong support system and how it can empower you to be the best version of yourself.
All of this wouldn’t be possible without your generous support, so I would like to extend my thanks to you. Your support goes a long way in helping students like me make their way through college.
Although I won’t be able to walk across a stage, I know my time here at the University of Michigan will always hold a special place in my heart. On behalf of myself and all the other seniors of the class of 2020, thank you for making this time possible.