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Class of 2020 Story: Finding My People

Class of 2020 Halloween 2016
The Class of 2020 celebrates Halloween in 2016 as the 101 Dalmatians. Jenn Heyward is on the front row, far right. Photo by Nathan Latil/NC State Veterinary Medicine

Class of 2020 Stories The following by Jenn Heyward is the second in a series of Class of 2020 stories running up to the CVM’s oath and hooding ceremony on May 8.

Read all of the stories here:

When applying to vet school, NC State wasn’t my top choice. By the time I received my acceptance, however, I had realized that financially, NC State was the realistic option.

I had already accepted my spot in the Class of 2020 by the time I made it to the in-state welcome weekend. During a whirlwind day, I remember meeting a soon-to-be Notre Dame alumna who was just as anxious as I was for the upcoming Elite Eight game of UNC vs Notre Dame and a girl from Clemson who shared my love of Disney as we discussed her Disney spring break trip.

I met a guy from NC State who thought the Terry Center was just as overwhelming as I did during our tour, and I met a girl from Virginia Tech who invited me to sit with her and her family at the dinner. 

Yet in spite of all these wonderful people, I was terrified — terrified to leave the community I had formed during my time at UNC, even though I was only moving 25 miles away. During the Q&A session with members of the Class of 2019, I’m sure they talked about many great things about vet school, but all I remember is mentions of how it would be the hardest four years, how there was a lot of stress and competition between students and how doing anything fun outside of school was scarce. 

I went back to Chapel Hill that night, utterly unsure if I had made the right choice.

During August orientation, we were divided into our appropriate houses and faced with the unpleasant news that we would be spending a mildly painful evening attempting improv exercises. It was a bonding experience, for sure, and as we continued to muddle our way through meetings about student loans and focus areas, I realized that my classmates were just as terrified and unprepared as I was. I thought, maybe, we would get lucky. Maybe these next four years would be about supporting and encouraging each other rather than competition and clashing.

As wonderful as that sounded, I worried it would be easier said than done. And yet….

Those first few months of vet school were filled with studying and anxiety, but also with trips to the state fair to celebrate birthdays, jaunts to swim at the quarry, Olympic viewing nights with homemade milkshakes, cookie-baking evenings, and outdoor movie nights. 

I couldn’t tell you what I got on my first anatomy exam, but I clearly remember laughing together with classmates and our professors at Brickhouse that night.

Class of 2020's Jenn Heyward
Heyward celebrates Halloween on the CVM campus in 2019 with her dog, Finnigan.

Then came Halloween.

Halloween is possibly my favorite holiday, and group costumes are an absolutely essential part of that. That first Halloween at the CVM I knew that I would never be happy unless our class all dressed up as the 101 Dalmatians. 

I never thought I could get the class to agree, but they did. Almost unanimously.

As I spent most of fall break sitting on my living room floor with my parents cutting out several thousand black spots and raving about the amazing classmates I had, my mom looked at me and asked, “You’ve found your people, haven’t you?” And she was right.

The Class of 2020 is my people.

They’ve proven that more each year as we’ve learned together, celebrated together, traveled together, eaten together, run together, stressed together, laughed together, grieved together. 

Again and again, the Class of 2020 has proven that we are not just classmates, but a family. 

And as we all enter an uncertain time, full of anxiety and full of unknowns, one thing that I know for sure is that I will always be a part of this family. I know that though we won’t be getting the celebration — the closure — that we so desperately need, at least not right away, we will always have each other to lean on. 

It’s been a long, tough four years, but there are no people I would have rather traveled this journey with. So instead of goodbye, because I refuse to believe I won’t be seeing you all again, I choose to say thank you. Thank you to my Class of 2020. Thank you for humoring me with not just one group Halloween costume, but four. 

Thank you for being my people.

Jenn Heyward is from Waynesboro, Va. After graduation, she will begin a small animal rotating internship at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, with plans to specialize in ophthalmology.