Graduating Under Extraordinary Circumstances

Plymouth State is holding combined Commencement ceremonies for the classes of 2020 and 2021, honoring graduates who will be forever distinguished by their fortitude and dedication.  These celebratory events follow semesters in which the pandemic required the University community to research, adapt, and implement new procedures in all areas of operation.

We acknowledge those who embraced new learning modalities, postponed planned events and activities, and for many, withstood work, family, or health worries. Despite all of the hurdles, they continued on the path to graduation. In this 150th anniversary year, the Plymouth State community showed just how capable it is, pulling together under extraordinary circumstances.

The experiences of just a few graduates follow but all have earned our admiration and respect.

Meaghan Allard ’21, Criminology; Prelaw Minor

Since the beginning of 2021, Allard was in quarantine three times, but her friends would bring her anything that she needed. To her, that’s what the PSU community is all about.

Allard has been a captain of the Women’s Lacrosse Team this spring. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, the team was in the midst of away matches in Colorado but had to cut its season short and return home. The team didn’t get to play any of its Little East Conference games, effectively breaking a Plymouth State streak of several consecutive conference titles.

Allard earned a full scholarship to Suffolk University Law School and will begin an accelerated, two-year JD program immediately after Commencement. She plans to go into family law in order to assist children involved in custody battles.

Molly Cassidy ’20, Sociology; Minors in Peace and Social Justice Studies, and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

Cassidy says that she’s still processing the whole last year. In March 2020, she was leading an Office of Community Impact service trip to an educational farm in Pennsylvania when urgent messages about closing down began arriving from Plymouth. She brought her group of mostly freshmen and sophomores back to campus, helped them retrieve their belongings so they could head home, then, figuring it was the safest place to be, she and two other PSU friends returned to the farm and stayed for a couple of months.

At PSU, Cassidy was a student leader involved with many service and community initiatives. She is currently in the Bangor, Maine, area with AmeriCorps VISTA as community outreach coordinator for college access. The area has a high poverty rate and she often deals with students in crisis situations. Her work involves connecting students and others with a nonprofit that provides free classes and coaching to help build economic security, and she also works closely with the local community action program.

Zachary Eastman ’21, Business Administration

Eastman has had as many as four jobs at once while attending PSU. He is a homeless student who made Plymouth State his home, and, after learning about the University’s many services, he wanted to make it easier for others to do the same. He came up with a “one-stop shop” concept for the web to streamline student access to the University food pantry, emergency funding, essential school supplies, and health and counseling centers, among other resources.

Eastman, together with Noah Fiske ’21, put together their vision of a virtual integration of all of the resources students need to succeed. Their proposal was a prize-winner at the New Hampshire Social Venture Innovation Challenge competition.

Manju Gurung ’21, Early Childhood Education

Gurung came to New Hampshire as an eighth-grader from Nepal with limited English proficiency. Prior to that, she had grown up in a refugee camp where her parents had met after escaping ethnic cleansing in their native Bhutan. Gurung was a TRIO scholar and she is driven to help others. She has contributed to the Angel Tree Project and Project Linus, among other PSU volunteer efforts.

Both she and her mother tested positive for COVID last winter, and, while Manju was asymptomatic, her mother developed symptoms and couldn’t work. Her family worried about paying rent and food bills and was concerned that Manju’s grandmother might catch the virus. Fortunately, she didn’t, and Manju’s mother recovered as well. Manju maintains that the pandemic has been beneficial in that it has taught everyone to not take things for granted but to appreciate and be mindful of every passing moment.

Samantha Hooper ’20, Business Administration; ’21MBA

Earlier in her career, Hooper worked as an LNA, assisting patients with traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries, and she is currently the communications coordinator for Mid-State Health Center, a primary care provider with locations in Plymouth and Bristol. Her responsibilities revolve around community health programs and activities, and she’s done this work concurrent with her graduate studies. 

Since 2019, Hooper has spearheaded Feed the Need, a Mid-State program that addresses food insecurity. More recently, she wrote a successful grant for “quarantine boxes,” providing around 100 families with food when they had to quarantine due to COVID. Hooper and her Mid-State team had the opportunity to personally update Governor Chris Sununu about the program and regional needs. 

Hooper’s goal is to ultimately work in nursing home administration, where she hopes to instill the caring values more commonly associated with hospice settings. 

Daniela Lindemeyer, ’21DPT

Lindemeyer’s third and last clinical rotation was in a skilled nursing facility in Massachusetts, which had lost a significant number of residents to COVID before she arrived. The facility provided both short- and long-term rehabilitation, and her patients included individuals who had suffered COVID consequences. At first, she didn’t know if she would handle this experience well, but she had to adjust to the environment quickly and it ultimately helped her develop new skills.

Lindemeyer’s biggest takeaway from the pandemic is that everyone must stay adaptive, and this is particularly important in healthcare. Leaving the PSU campus for spring break as a second-year graduate student and never coming back was something she never anticipated. She found creative ways to continue practicing the hands-on skills essential to her profession that she learned at PSU.

Samuel Parks ’21MS, Environmental Science and Policy

Parks completed his master’s thesis this spring back in his childhood home of San Diego, far from his New Hampshire research sites and friends. He says he is incredibly grateful for the cohort of students who matriculated ahead of him and cherishes memories of their kindness. His connection to Plymouth suffered after March 2020 and he felt lonely when he returned as a Fall 2020 teaching assistant but overall considers himself lucky to have not had some of the difficulties that some of his classmates have faced.

Parks’s thesis research focused on bird community response to experimental patch cuts on two American Tree Farms in Canaan and Lyme, NH, and he documented increases in bird species richness after small group harvests. He presented his work at several regional and national conferences and received funding from multiple sources to support his thesis work. The research highlights increased economic and ecosystem benefits of patch cut timber harvests, pointing to potential greater application.

Leo Shattuck ’20, Biology

Plymouth State’s robust testing program has made possible this year’s in-person learning and other campus experiences. Shattuck has put his biology degree to good use while playing a key role as the University’s testing coordinator, a position he took when the pandemic postponed his plans to attend medical school.

In the spring of 2020, Shattuck was president of PSU’s pre-med club, working his way through difficult senior-level courses and scheduled to take the MCAT exam in August. When classes shifted abruptly to remote format, some of his on-campus research was put on hold, and he found it difficult to reconstruct his previously carefully planned schedule.

Shattuck has worked throughout this period, and, along with his testing duties, he is on-call 24/7 as a rental apartment building manager. At present, he is putting money away and still hopes to eventually attend med school. He previously volunteered in hospital emergency medicine and may consider this specialty as a future career choice.