This past weekend, hundreds of students from Dominican University and Concordia University Chicago received their diplomas, closing one chapter of their lives to start a new one. Wednesday Journal spoke to five seniors at the River Forest universities days before their commencement ceremonies and asked them to reflect on their college experience and share some memories along with future plans.

Trey Cowan (Photo by F. Amanda Tugade)

Trey Cowan, 21 

Hometown: Plainfield, Ill.
Major: Marketing
School: Dominican University

What’s your best college memory?
Going to the Final Four [of the NCAA men’s volleyball tournament] last year was a really cool experience. We got an automatic buy in into the Elite Eight and won that game and went to the Final Four. It was just an overall amazing experience with all my teammates. … [It’s] something that I always wanted to do coming to Dominican. They went to the Final Four my senior year of high school, but I got to do it myself.

What’s your favorite place to go to on or near campus?
Johnny’s Beef. It’s on North Avenue – literally the best beef place in Chicago.

What advice would you give to underclassmen?
Don’t take the first semester as a joke because it’s hard to climb out of your GPA. But when it comes to socially, especially if you’re on an athletic team, don’t only hang out with your team. Branch out and try to meet as many new people as possible.

Anthony Howard (Alex Rogals/Staff Photographer)

Anthony ‘AJ’ Howard, 22

Hometown: Chicago, Ill.
Major: Music education
School: Concordia University Chicago

What inspired you to study music education?
I had a very amazing music teacher [who] was my middle and high school band director. I didn’t really have plans on going to college, but when I started to excel in music [class] and my teacher noticed the gift that I had, she really pushed me out of my comfort zone and pushed me to become the best musician that I could and prepare me for college.

What are you most excited about after graduating college?
The thought that immediately went into my brain was taking a break! Five years of undergrad was a lot, but I’m really excited to be on the other side of education. I spent a lot of time being a performer and being a student, so I’m excited to be on the other side of the podium and being the leader and creating music in a different way.

What’s one thing you’ll miss about Concordia?
Just all of the students and just the community was absolutely amazing and close-knit. I felt like the support and resources were all there, and it allowed me to feel comfortable in taking risks and going for opportunities that seemed a little daunting in the beginning.

Chelsea Zhao (Photo by F. Amanda Tugade)

Chelsea Zhao, 23

Hometown: Zhengzhou, China
Major: Digital journalism and informatics
School: Dominican University

What’s your dream job?
To work as an international correspondent

Any publications or media outlets in mind?
Associated Press or Reporters Without Borders

What’s your proudest moment at Dominican University?
I’ll definitely say [working for] the [Dominican] Star. I would have never dreamed that I would become the editor of the student newspaper because I didn’t even speak English 12 years ago. I’ve come a long way from memorizing Quizlet vocabularies. … I felt like if I didn’t go with my heart to pursue journalism – which is something I’m really passionate about – I would have never met the amazing, talented and brilliant people here.

What’s a message you want to share with underclassmen?
Don’t be afraid of putting yourself out there.

Crystal Martillo (Alex Rogals/Staff Photographer)

Crystal Martillo, 21

Hometown: Plainfield, Ill.
Major: Music education
School: Concordia University Chicago

What have you learned about yourself?
There’s always opportunity for more growth. I was just able to learn that I’m so much more than I thought I was, and Concordia gave me so many opportunities that allowed me to grow, and change, and be the person that I am today.

What are your plans for the summer?
I’ll be going to Ecuador three days after graduation [to see my family], and after that I’m still trying to figure out what I’m doing.

What’s a motto you live by?
It’s not about what you know; it’s about who you know. I found that [to be] so true throughout my four years of college, and that’s why I’ve gotten so involved. I realized the important thing in life is the people in it.

Mack Gonzalez (Photo by Azhley Rodriguez)

Mack Gonzalez, 22

Hometown: Berwyn, Ill.
Major: History, Secondary Education
School: Dominican University

Describe your time at Dominican University.
It was very rewarding. I came in as a little boy – I was 18 – and I’m leaving feeling more sculpted as a man. I see it in terms of how I interact with people and how I carry myself. I know more about what I want to do with the rest of my life, and Dominican gave me that opportunity to build relationships, and I’m very grateful for that.

What’s the plan after graduation?
Right now, I’m just searching for jobs in admissions or become part of student life at different universities as opposed to high schools. I’m very excited.

Freelancer Azhley Rodriguez contributed reporting.

Editor’s Note: Some questions and answers have been edited for clarity.

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