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Resilient CVM Class of 2020 Reflects on Remarkable 4 Years

Each member of the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine Class of 2020 has a story to tell.

But the entire class also has a common story, one of unity, mutual support, resilience and strength.

During their four years at the CVM, the Class of 2020 has coped with the devastating loss of a classmate, two massive hurricanes and the COVID-19 pandemic that disrupted their final semester. 

 It is fitting, then, for a class that has been through so much together to graduate together as a group of 100. It is the first class to do so since the CVM increased its class size to that number. The Class of 2020 will receive their DVM hoods and recite the Veterinarian’s Oath during a virtual ceremony on May 8.

“I was a bit apprehensive about what the class would be like our first year,” says the Class of 2020’s Joe Wiggins. “As undergraduates, it was very competitive, with everyone having an iron will to get into a very competitive professional program. I wondered how we would work together.”

The reality was dramatically different.

The Class of 2020 experiences their first group exercise during orientation in 2016. Photo by Nathan Latil/NC State Veterinary Medicine

“During orientation we just came together. Everything clicked,” says Wiggins, who was selected by the class to speak at the Oath and Hooding Ceremony. “There was no competition. Everyone was collaborative. We tried to help one another, whether it was studying, finding opportunities, dealing with our faults, or whatever it took. I’m really glad to be a part of this class.”

Part of that unity was forged from the shock and sorrow of losing Samantha Lin, a dynamic classmate in a heartbreaking traffic accident. During Oath and Hooding, Lin will receive a posthumous DVM and the Class of 2020 will wear pins bearing her initials.

To honor the memory of Lin, the class were integral partners in creating an endowed scholarship in her name, the Samantha Lin Memorial Scholarship.  The class donated about $7,000 to the scholarship, said class treasurer Katie Bollag. 

“This is not the first time my class has donated to important causes,” says Bollag. “ I’m very proud of my class’s generosity.”

Building on the momentum from this class gift, the CVM led a campaign to raise $25,000 for the scholarship, which was matched by $25,000 from the R. B. Terry Charitable Foundation. The endowed scholarship will support fourth-year DVM students interested in surgery, research and teaching, reflecting Lin’s veterinary interests. 

“It was a tough time, losing Sam,” says Wiggins. “She was a fireball. She had it all. She was passionate, she was humble, her motor was always running, but she still had time to look out for others.”

There were other experiences that tested the the Class of 2020’s mettle and drew them together. Among them were Hurricane Florence in 2018 and Hurricane Dorian in 2019, both of which led to emergency pet rescue operations involving students.

On a more positive note, the Class of 2020 was the first to enjoy four years of involvement with the CVM House System. In the fall 2016, the CVM became the first veterinary school in the country to implement a house system.

It’s part welcome, part community builder and support system, with a focus on physical, social and mental wellbeing. The four houses named after renowned veterinarians —House Bourgelat, House Salmon, House Shalihotra, House Webb —  compete throughout the year by earning points, reminiscent of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts.

This spring, during the Class of 2020’s final semester, there has been one more challenge — the COVID-19 pandemic. The class adapted again, participating in virtual classes and clinical rotations. 

“These are wonderful, remarkable people,” says Laura Nelson, CVM associate dean and director of academic affairs. “The Class of 2020 has shown themselves to be people of character and compassion in good times and in bad.”

 The Class of 2020’s Dallas Clontz had many personal plans upended by the pandemic, including a large wedding ceremony in advance of relocating to College Station, Texas, for a residency and Ph.D. studies at Texas A&M University.

“My class is probably one of the most amazing groups of people I’ll ever meet,” she says. “I miss them so much. They’re some of the best friends I have in life. We’ve had so many ups and downs together. It’s all been part of the learning experience. We’ve been forced to grow and to cope.”

There are other standout accomplishments. Allie McFadden is just the second CVM student to graduate with the combination of a DVM and a MBA, combining medical credentials with the business acumen to operate an independent practice or to assume an important role in the corporate world, such as the pharmaceutical industry. McFadden and her husband are relocating to jobs in Brooklyn, N.Y.

“All the challenges we’ve faced made us more adaptable,” says McFadden. “We know we can face these things and do better.”

As director of student services, Jeff Huckel is among those at the CVM who knows the Class of 2020 — each and every member — the best. And he’ll never forget them.

This class has been through more challenges than most. Through it all, each student has acquitted him or herself with grace, kindness and compassion,” says Huckel. “When I reflect on my entire career, not just my time at the CVM, I will think of the Class of 2020 first.”

~Steve Volstad/NC State Veterinary Medicine