Graduate Beaux Goodreaux joyfully raises his arms on the horizon of Lake Ponchartrain

Passionate and Driven

As six members of the class of ’22, who received bachelor’s degrees in May, embark on the next phase of their lives, they reflect on how they persevered throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Watch the Tulane 2022 student spotlights here.

Above: Happy to graduate! Beau Goodreaux looks out on Lake Pontchartrain. (Photography by Paula Burch-Celentano) 

After Tulane sent students home and shifted all classes online in March 2020, Beau Goodreaux drove around the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain, sometimes as far as Bogalusa, for a change of scenery and a break from screen time.

When Goodreaux and other members of the Class of ’22 began their academic journey at Tulane in fall 2018, their path appeared straightforward. But then SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, upended the world during the second semester of their sophomore year. At the time, Goodreaux had no idea how much his final years at Tulane would be transformed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I thought it would be like hurricane season,” said Goodreaux, who is from Covington. A cell and molecular biology major who earned a Bachelor of Science from the School of Science and Engineering, Goodreaux assumed, “We’ll get a couple weeks off from school. We’ll be online until May. We’ll back to normal in August, and everything will be fine.”

Waiting for Things to Get Better

Katie Elder, who received a Bachelor of Arts with a double major in international relations and Russian from the School of Liberal Arts, is from South Carolina. She said that the week that students moved out of residence halls was surprisingly a bonding experience. “It ended up being one of my most fun weeks of college,” she said.

“We were in denial about what was happening. We were packing up, and we didn’t have classes. But then we all got home, and that’s when it hit for me,” she said.

The unknown was hard.

Caroline Richter, in the dual-degree Altman Scholar program, earned a Bachelor of Science in Management in finance from the A. B. Freeman School of Business and a Bachelor of Arts in political economy from the School of Liberal Arts. She said the first few months of the pandemic felt like a “pause” on regular life.

“I had no routine and I had nowhere that I needed to be. It was a purgatory for a while,” Richter said.

2022 graduate Caroline Richter seated at an outdoor cafe on Oak Street, New Orleans
Caroline Richter, at an uptown sidewalk cafe, enjoys the time before she joins an asset managagement firm in California this summer.

Kennedy Walker earned two degrees: a Bachelor of Science in neuroscience from the School of Science and Engineering and a Bachelor of Arts in dance from the School of Liberal Arts. Walker described the time away from campus as “waiting on pins and needles.”

“When can I go back to normal? How long is this actually going to last?” she wondered.

Mikala Nellum, who is from Los Angeles, earned a Bachelor of Science in Public Health from the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. She found solace from the disruption and lack of in-person classes when she adopted a Chihuahua named Pop Tart and became a “proud dog mom.” 

“It’s one of my greatest joys in life having him as a companion,” said Nellum.

Brendan Chase earned two degrees: a Bachelor of Arts in political economy from the School of Liberal Arts and a Bachelor of Science in Public Health from the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. After classes went online, Chase was not gone from New Orleans for long. He was at home in Boston for barely 24 hours when New Orleans Emergency Medical Services, where he had been a volunteer, called to ask his help in transporting COVID-19 patients. He gladly agreed to return to the city, although his parents were not in favor.

“Ultimately, I was able to convince them,” Chase said. His grandfather had been a firefighter and other members of his family are first responders, too.

“When I look back, when I tell my kids about this,” said Chase, “what am I going to tell them I did? That I went back (to help) or just sat at home and took online classes?”

He returned to New Orleans in March 2020, where he slept in a sleeping bag on a futon at a friend’s home and ate food donated to EMS while he volunteered during the night shift — all while taking his classes remotely.

“We were so unbelievably busy,” he said.

The Return

In fall 2020, the Tulane campus reopened and returned to in-person classes but with strict COVID-19 testing, temporary classrooms to facilitate social distancing, quarantine protocols and mask requirements in place.

“It was fun coming back and felt so good and so right to be back in New Orleans,” said Elder, “but it is a little weird to come back to a place that you’ve grown to love, but it’s not quite the same.”

Walker, who has been an Office of Undergraduate Admission tour guide for all four of her undergraduate years, was a Wave Leader and on the board of directors for New Student Orientation for fall 2020.

She, like many students, felt grateful to reunite with friends and campus life. Upon returning, she helped to create the Tulane University Roller Skating Club. However, the campus atmosphere had changed.

“Classes were layered differently, and you weren’t seeing people in between classes anymore. You saw random bursts of people around campus, but that walk down McAlister (Place) that you love when you see everybody in between classes, that did not exist,” she said.

Kennedy Walker in dance studio
Kennedy Walker, practicing in a McWilliams Hall dance studio, will study dance science in London in the fall.

Richter experienced a return to campus later than most of her peers. She was one of a lucky few granted permission to study abroad in summer 2020 as part of the Altman Scholar Program.

Richter took courses focused on post-conflict restoration, development and peace building through the School for International Training, and she interned for a month at the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development in Rwanda. That fall, she planned to study in Copenhagen but was deported due to pandemic restrictions. She still took her courses virtually — all in a European time zone — from her home in Arlington, Virginia.

“My sleep schedule was wack,” said Richter, “because every day my class had a different time, and it was somewhere between 2 a.m. and 8 a.m.”

When Richter returned to the Tulane campus in spring 2021, “It felt a lot more normal than I was expecting it to.”

Chase made sure he was “in person as much as possible” when in-person classes were offered. He took a full-time load of coursework, and he changed his status with New Orleans EMS from volunteer to full-time advanced emergency medical technician.

In August 2021, when Hurricane Ida impacted the city, Chase was called on again to stay behind and help. He was sent to scout the streets to see where ambulances could pass. He worked nonstop for two weeks. The post-Ida evacuation when Tulane transitioned to online learning for a few weeks before the return to on-ground classes in late September “was probably one of the most difficult transitions in my college experience,” said Chase.

Importance of Self-Care

Throughout the pandemic’s ups and downs and adapting to different ways of living and learning, support — both seeking it out and providing it — was of vital importance to these members of the Class of ’22.

Elder is a Peer Success Leader, part of Newcomb-Tulane College’s Student Success Services. These leaders help other students navigate academic and social challenges and find opportunities to engage in campus life.

Elder is also president of Women in Politics. She said that she’s had people in her life and older students, whom she has looked up to,  give her advice and guidance. They have “held my hand through tough seasons of life,” she said. “It’s nice to feel like you’re doing that for other students, especially first-year students.”

She is a fan of escapism. She watched Marvel movies with friends, read books and begun running. She ran her first half-marathon in February and celebrated with other Tulane seniors. She plans to run many races in the future.

2022 graduate Katie Elder in Audubon Park
Katie Elder runs in Audubon Park before she moves to Washington, D.C., for a job in national security.

Goodreaux is also a Peer Success Leader, and he’s a Phi Sigma Pi National Honor Fraternity member. The advice he has given students, and himself, is to not fall into the comparison trap.

“The big thing is reassuring people that this is a thing that we’re all going through. Just because others might appear to be doing OK with the transitions and everything, that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the case.”

Understanding the importance of self-care, Goodreaux utilized Tulane Campus Health’s Counseling and Psychological Services. He also joined friends on Zoom calls to play games like Pictionary. The new Animal Crossing video game, released during the early days of the pandemic, was an especially great distraction, Goodreaux said.

Nellum, a member of Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship at Tulane, said leaning on her faith has been essential. “It’s been great having a Christian community surrounding me,” she said. “Those are lifelong friends and real supporters that you can genuinely tell anything to.”

In navigating the uncertainty, Walker, a Baton Rouge native, found solace in extended quality time with family.

“It was nice to be able to reconnect in ways that I don’t think I had since high school. I loved that.”

She also had themed video calls with friends like “movie review night.” The early days of the pandemic allowed for creative ways to build relationships.

“There’s no better way to bond with somebody than over a mutual missing of Tulane,” Walker said.

Shape of the Future

With vaccines becoming available in spring ’21 and more opportunities for in-person interactions, by the time these students reached their senior year in fall ’21, they’d almost adjusted to the unpredictability of the coronavirus. Through it all, they remained determined, learning much about themselves along the way.

The pandemic taught Nellum, who “very much loves to be extroverted,” to slow down and decompress. “I’m learning to value that time where I’m checking in with myself,” she said.

2022 graduate Mikala Nellum on porch with dog
Mikala Nellum sits on the porch with her dog, Pop Tart. Nellum’s long-range goal is to study veterinary public health.

Like Chase, Nellum is an emergency medical technician. For several years, she volunteered with Tulane Emergency Medical Services, where she was on the front lines responding to medical emergencies, including transporting COVID-19-
positive students to quarantine sites.

She is now employed by the Audubon Institute/Audubon Zoo, where she brings together her two passions: medicine and animals. She plans eventually to pursue a master’s degree in veterinary public health. 

In the near future, Chase will continue his role at New Orleans EMS. “I like helping people. That’s honestly why being an EMT, in my opinion, is the best job in the world,” he said. In June, he will appear on A&E’s “Nightwatch” — a show that follows first responders.

Later, he plans to go to law school, where he’ll specialize in healthcare law and policy.

2022 graduate and paramedic Brendan Chace with ambulance and Superdome in background
Brendan Chase is an emergency medical technician with plans to eventually go to law school to study health policy.

Goodreaux has been accepted to medical school at Louisiana State University—New Orleans, where he’ll study either immunology, dermatology or infectious diseases. Whatever specialty he pursues, Goodreaux said that he wants human interaction with patients rather than “distant” medicine.

2022 graduate Beaux Goodreaux on lakefront beside his car
Beau Goodreaux is on his way to medical school.

Spurred by her internship with the finance ministry in Rwanda, which led her to take a deeper dive in the finance world, Richter is moving, after graduation, to Newport Beach, California, to take a job with Pimco, an asset management firm.

Richter said that she has a renewed appreciation for her friendships. “I know I can count on my friends to be there for me and I look forward even more to the time we get to spend together. They help me keep up hope.”

Elder has a job lined up in national security in Washington, D.C., where her knowledge of the Russian language should come in handy. She said that living through the pandemic taught her to decrease the pressure she put on herself.

“I have my days where I feel productive, and I want to get a lot done. I capitalize on that,” said Elder. “Then I have days where I’m struggling more or just moving slower. I’ve learned to be a bit more OK with that.”

Walker, a member of the Newcomb Dance Company, has been involved with Moving to Heal (M2H), an initiative providing dance-movement therapy and support to survivors of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. M2H has partnered with Eden House, a New Orleans shelter, where survivors strive to mend the mind-body connection.

M2H has helped shape Walker’s future. She’s been accepted to the master’s program in dance science at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London, where she’ll move next fall.

The pandemic taught Walker — as it did all these students — that there aren’t “set paths,” but with the right attitude, a productive, useful path can be forged.

 “You can literally do anything that you want to,” said Walker, “as long as you’re passionate about something. If you have the drive to try, then it’s possible.”