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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC students commemorate end of unique year with senior pictures

Hanna Wondmagegn, a UNC senior journalism major, takes graduation pictures of Deanna Upchurch, a senior peace, war and defense major at the Old Well.

As the spring semester is beginning to wind down, many seniors are commemorating this milestone in their lives with photographs. Some have recruited friends or family members to take their pictures and others will hire professional photographers, but the bittersweet sentiments remain the same. 

Graduation season is upon us.  

Deborah Gardner, a senior at the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, wanted to take graduation photos to send on cards to her family and friends since the pandemic hindered her ability to visit them. She said this was an expression of gratitude to them for supporting her through these difficult years. 

“Plus, I'm not going to lie, I love taking pictures, and when else will I have a legit reason for people to follow me around taking photos?” she said. 

Gardner's photos were taken by a photographer friend who shot her and her friends at South Building and the Old Well, which are some of the most iconic landmarks at the University.   

Hanna Wondmagegn, a senior at the Hussman School, freelance graduation photographer and former DTH photographer, said these spots, as well as the Bell Tower and Coker Arboretum, are among the most popular venues for pictures. 

Wondmagegn said while taking graduation photos is not her usual line of work nor what she wants to do as a career, it gives her an opportunity to practice her posing and lighting work and make money on the side. She said she uses social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as her primary method of marketing her services and reaching out to clients. 

Hanna Wondmagegn, a UNC senior journalism major, takes graduation pictures of Deanna Upchurch, a senior peace, war and defense major.

Wondmagegn has been shooting graduation photos since sophomore year. She said doing this as a senior herself is more emotional than it had been for her in the past, but she uses it as an opportunity to celebrate the small wins as her peers celebrate around her. 

“I get to see friends either that I'm taking photos of or run into when they're getting their photos taken and it feels amazing to have some sliver of normalcy amongst everything,” she said. 

“It's also been very hard to celebrate wins as a senior since we got two semesters and a half taken away from us so seeing seniors out on campus wearing their cap and gowns, popping champagne and posing with friends feels so great. I'm honored to play a small role in people's memories.” 

As their undergraduate experience comes to a close, many seniors have used this celebratory time to reflect on their past four years at the University and how the pandemic has affected it. 

Olivia Derienzo, a communications student, said that although she never found it necessary to take professional graduation photos in high school, doing so in college was intrinsically different for her as a first-generation college student. She said having these photos encapsulate this achievement and her four years of hard work gave her something to be proud of. 

Although she was inevitably going to miss living close to her friends she made while at UNC, Gardner was ultimately ready to begin the next chapter in her life, especially after the difficulties of the past year. 

“I'm honestly ready to leave,” Gardner said. “As a Black woman, I have been affected mentally by so much that has happened on campus, and the pandemic didn't really help. Sure, I enjoyed meeting new people here and building really close relationships, but I'm ready for the next stage of life.” 

Derienzo said despite the changes that the pandemic brought to her last three semesters, she found that the relationships that she built at UNC were what made the experience worthwhile. 

“If you let your measure of ‘success’ be rooted in something as unpredictable as your expectations, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment,” Derienzo said. “While I’m momentarily disappointed that I missed out on some pivotal Carolina experiences, I will have my UNC friendships for years to come, and that makes all the difference." 


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