Entering college is an accomplishment of its own, but graduating from it is a milestone. Hours of hard work, sleepless nights and occasional breakdowns will finally pay off for students graduating this spring. Close to the finish line, five University of Maine students reflected on their experiences at “the college of our hearts always.”
“I am equally relieved but also very scared to finish school,” Annie Bonnanzio, a sustainable agriculture student, said. “Entering the workforce is nerve-racking.”
Bonnanzio worked her way through college, teaching dance classes, serving at restaurants and driving kids to school, all while being a full-time student.
“It’s hard combining school with work, but my best semesters were the ones where I had more going on,” Bonnanzio said. “If I have less to keep track of, I am less productive.”
Last semester, Bonnanzio, co-President of UMaine Dance Club, performed at the Fall Dance Showcase, toured with Robinson Ballet and managed to study for finals all within a week. She shared that the key is to take everything one hour at a time. She credits her academic performance and time-management skills to dance, which requires a lot of self-discipline and dedication from an early age.
Student Portfolio Investment Fund (SPIFFY), a student led entrepreneurial organization on campus that manages $2.3 million dollars, greatly impacted Alvin Alamba and Sierra Santomango. Both finance majors, Alamba and Santomango shared that being a part of SPIFFY prepared them for their future careers in data analysis and corporate finance.
A native of Brockton, Mass., Alamba found a home away from home at UMaine.
“Although it is a big school, it feels small. The weather can get intense, but it’s peaceful and quiet. I love it here,” Alamba said.
From a young age, Alamba was involved in many groups and organizations and that did not change in college. At UMaine, he was involved with the volunteering organization Strong Mind Strong Body and served as the president of Black Student Union.
“Right away I met new people and made friends for a lifetime, people I talk to every single day,” Alamba said.
“There is an end at the end of the tunnel,” Santomango said, as she prepared for her resident assistant duty.
It is normal for her to get as little as two hours of sleep on a given night. Santomango utilizes breaks for quick naps and thanks coffee for helping her push through long hours on duty. Joining Residence Life was a big part of Santomango’s college career. It’s where she met friends and learned to work with a diverse group of people. Santomango, who is set to graduate a year early, believes that she grew a lot since her freshman year.
“I wish I was braver than I was,” Santomango said. “It is important to recognize that everyone is scared when you are a freshman and you all are in the same spot,” Santomango added.
Anna Spitzfaden and Donald Bistri both received the UMaine Trustee International Tuition Scholarship, a competitive merit based scholarship for international students.
“I couldn’t afford U.S. education, so I am thankful for the fact that they [UMaine] believed in me with full funding,” Bistri, a mechanical engineering student from Albania, said.
“It has been an absolute blessing to have that [scholarship], I am really grateful to have received it,” Spitzfaden, a history and international affairs student, said.
Spitzfaden is planning to pursue her master’s degree in international relations at University College Dublin in Ireland. “I am definitely going to be sad to leave Maine, it became my second home; but I am excited for new opportunities,” Spitzfaden said.
Spitzfaden’s family members from Germany are planning to attend her graduation ceremony in May. “My parents have been the biggest supporters I’ve had,” Spitzfaden shared. “I am here because of them; they always told me to go for my dreams and goals.”
Similarly to Spitzfaden, Bistri credits his family as his biggest motivation. “Everything I achieve I give back to them, for all of their sacrifices,” Bistri said. “That is why every night, I am at the library studying, I want to make them proud.”
Indeed, Bistri is one of the last students who leaves the library at closing time. During his time at UMaine, Bistri worked as a teacher’s assistant for several math and engineering courses. He also had a chance to do research for the Advanced Structures and Composites Center.
Bistri’s advice to UMaine students would be to invest in themselves.
“This is a time to make a stand for yourself and your loved ones,” Bistri said. “Whenever you feel tired from studying, think in a long term perspective. Some people think they’ll graduate, get a diploma and make money for themselves; but our world needs to make a stand with our education. We should be morally responsible to give back for what we were given and chase our dreams through hard work.”