Celebrating the first official Macalester QuestBridge graduates

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The Questbridge class of 2021. Photo courtesy of Amy Vandervelde ’21.

Amy Vandervelde, Opinion Editor & Copy Editor

Content Warning: Please be advised that this article mentions Macalester student Kai Davis, who passed away in September 2020.

Four years ago, in the fall of 2017, Macalester’s first official QuestBridge (QB) cohort arrived. And in just over two weeks, the class of 2021 QuestBridge members — that very same QB cohort that came to Macalester in 2017 — will graduate. I wanted to take the time to thoroughly recognize these four years of hard work, resilience and determination that brought us to this point with the help of our peers, and of course, the irreplaceable Associate Dean for Educational Partnerships Ruth Janisch and Assistant Dean of Multicultural Life Sedric McClure.

QuestBridge is a national organization that supports first-generation and/or low-income students with college access. Macalester College joined QuestBridge as a college partner in 2016. Currently, the QuestBridge program has 45 college partners. QuestBridge creates the opportunity for low-income students to overcome the many financial barriers associated with applying to and entering college.

On the college partner campuses, the individual chapters of the QuestBridge Scholars Network (QSN) form strong  bonds with students who share similar backgrounds. The Mac QSN chapter was such a welcome environment for me; it was one of the only places where I felt like I belonged during my first year at Macalester.

Thinking back through four years of QuestBridge at Macalester, I decided to reach out to some of my fellow “Questies” to see what they remember from our four years of QuestBridge here at Mac.

Yoonjin Shu ’21 reflected on the ease of attending virtual gatherings this year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“One good thing that came out of the pandemic is the ease with attending meetings since there isn’t much going on and it’s convenient to hop on Zoom,” she wrote in a survey response to The Mac Weekly. “Before this year, I never really participated in QB events because I was either working or had something else going on.”

Two events in particular stood out in the responses I received from my QuestBridge peers: National Quest Day & “QuestGiving.” These events were the favorites of Elizabeth Cain ’21 and Shu, respectively. 

The Department of Multicultural Life (DML) coordinates “QuestGiving,” which provides an alternative celebration for many students who are unable to return home over Thanksgiving Break.

“QB made sure we didn’t feel alone and gave us lots of yummy food to eat which I am very thankful for!” Shu wrote about her experience attending the Thanksgiving event in non-pandemic years.

Cain said she was hopeful for new opportunities through Mac’s QSN Chapter, such as further outreach into the community to work on more civic engagement as a group.

“Now that we’ve worked on bonding as a chapter, I really hope they can increase their engagement with the Twin Cities and take advantage of the location,” Cain wrote. 

I have had many different hopes for Mac QuestBridge over the past four years, and one just came true this past year: Macalester’s QSN Chapter became an official student organization at the college. My newest hope is to be able to create a Macalester QuestBridge Alums group to stay in touch with each other after graduation.

Perhaps the most treasured event for many of the graduating Questies — myself included — is our traditional walk to the river welcome event. Soon after classes start each fall, we’d pick a Saturday to meet at the Campus Center (CC) and take the 25 minute walk down to the Mississippi River. The event offered us the chance to reconnect as a group and welcome the new class of QB members to Macalester.

Many of Cain’s QB memories center around this tradition.

“It’s really nice to have that memory… and be able to reflect on how it started and now how it’s ending. The picture I have from that day is one of my favorite college pictures to look back at,” she wrote in a survey response to The Mac Weekly.

Bao Ha ’21 recalls the friendships that stemmed from his first walk to the river as a QuestBridge cohort at Macalester.

“I showed up to this event with no relationship to anyone else who showed up. It was an incredibly sunny Saturday and we met in front of the CC and walked down Grand together to the river. I happened to stand next to a scrappy guy with a beard from Alabama,” Ha wrote. 

“I didn’t talk to him again until a year later when we repeated the event our sophomore year, and eventually he became my best friend at Macalester,” he added.

The annual walks to the river hold so many memories for each and every one of us. 

As for my own memories from that first QuestBridge event, I could not write about the inaugural river walk without also remembering Kai Davis. He was one of the first QuestBridge peers that I ever met at Macalester during our walk to the river. He smiled the whole way to the river as we talked about our arrival at Macalester and tried to map out my Illinois hometown in relation to Chicago. In remembering four years of QuestBridge at Macalester, we remember Kai and miss his presence. 

Four years of QuestBridge at Macalester came to a close that none of us could have planned for. Instead of gathering together in-person, perhaps to take a final walk to the river as a group or eat pizza in the Harmon Room, we have adapted to hold a final gathering together online to celebrate, to reminisce and to dream big.

Here’s to the first four years of QuestBridge at Macalester: Congrats, Questies!

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