Student Stories

Class of 2020 reflects on first days, last four years at UChicago

Three students interviewed as incoming first-years in 2016 look back on their academic journeys

In 2016, the University of Chicago interviewed a group of incoming undergraduates during Orientation Week about their expectations for the next four years. Though their passions ranged from poetry to nonprofit work to running track and field, each of the three students was inspired to begin their academic journeys after meeting for the first time on campus.

“As I watched my new set of classmates traverse this beautiful Quad,” Greer Baxter recalled, “I knew this was exactly where I was meant to be.”

As the Class of 2020 prepares to graduate this weekend, these three students—Baxter, Vivek Ramakrishnan and Taylor Campos—look back on their transformative experiences at UChicago, and ahead to the future.

Greer Baxter: From poet to musician

When Baxter came to Chicago in 2016, she was a student poet. Although her major was in creative writing, she also discovered over the past four years “a tremendous passion for music and songwriting.”

“It wasn’t until I was exposed to the city of Chicago, creative peers and working on a Grammy Award-winning jazz album that I was introduced to a world of songwriting I never anticipated throwing myself into,” Baxter said.

During her second year, she was commissioned to write a song about the border wall for Mandy Gonzalez, who starred in Hamilton on Broadway. Baxter’s work, titled “Line in The Sand,” was recorded by Gonzalez and included on the album Fandango at The Wall by Arturo O’Farrill. The song was also adopted by UNICEF to promote its “A Child Is A Child” and “Uprooted” social media campaigns.

Recently chosen as one of the 2020 Class Day student speakers, Baxter reflected on the lifelong friendships she’s made with students in Off-Off Campus, an improv and sketch comedy group at UChicago.

“Writing, performing and directing shows, I found forever friends and creative partners among the clever, hilarious people in Off-Off Campus,” she said. “This RSO inspired me to work at The Second City this past fall and gave rise to my passion for comedic writing.”

 In addition, Baxter has had the opportunity to give a TEDx talk on campus about the nexus between poetry and melody. 

“UChicago ended up being everything I had imagined and hoped for,” she said. “I was able to study poetry here with incredible poets and professors, and then take that work and use it in my songwriting.”

Already commissioned by a number performing artists to write their music, Greer hopes to pursue a career in songwriting and comedy writing: “I love the creative process, and I hope my work ultimately moves people in some way—to tears or laughter.”

Vivek Ramakrishnan: Learning from the city of Chicago

When Vivek Ramakrishnan arrived in 2016, he sensed “the environment of intellectualism” among a University community that “stood out in its desire to contribute to society.” That proved true in his four years at UChicago.

“I studied public policy, and I felt like there was a huge drive for students to get involved in public service or community engagement.”

Last year, Ramakrishnan was awarded a Truman Scholarship, which provides up to $30,000 for students pursuing careers in public service. As an undergraduate, he worked for The Metropolitan Planning Council and contributed to its projects investigating segregation in Chicago.

“UChicago gave me the tools to condemn injustices that I encounter by backing up my claims with data, literature and critical thought,” he said.

As his final year nears completion, Ramakrishnan reflected on his research studying disadvantaged communities in Chicago and at-risk youth across the country.

“I really enjoyed writing my thesis, which was about informal workers on the CTA Red Line—for example, people who sell loose cigarettes, DVDs or perfume,” he said. “I would hop on the Red Line at 10 at night and wait for someone to come by selling something. While interviewing them, I met a lot of interesting characters and saw the city in a way that is unique and rare. I argued that the work these people do is very difficult and that they need to have sufficient social protections just as any other worker would.”

After UChicago, Ramakrishnan hopes to work for a nonprofit organization that impacts workers’ rights and labor rights and helps expand social safety nets.

“After witnessing the vast amounts of inequality and hardship that so many people face,” he said, “I feel a responsibility to try to use the knowledge I gained from the University of Chicago and my privilege to help even the playing field and help secure rights for other people.” 

Taylor Campos: Building close communities

While at UChicago, Taylor Campos soaked up as much of life on campus as possible before graduating in 2019—a year ahead of her classmates. In addition to pursuing academics and athletics, Campos volunteered at the Comer Children’s Hospital and tutored her peers.

“I really wanted to become involved in a community where I felt happy and supported,” Campos said. “I definitely did that with the cross country and track teams, as well as the school as a whole.”

After completing her economics degree in three years, Campos is now applying her experiences at UChicago to the real world. She currently works as an analyst in Chicago for Bank of America Private Bank.

“The role is a great fit because it integrates quantitative skills from UChicago’s economics program, while also allowing me to interact with clients directly,” she said.

In 2017, Campos was the only first-year to compete at nationals for cross country. She was also named to the University Athletic Association All-Academic Team for three straight years, in recognition of her academic and athletic achievements.

Although she graduated a year ahead of the Class of 2020, Campos still looks back fondly at her classmates.

“UChicago has definitely opened a ton of doors and allowed me to meet some of the best friends I’ve ever had,” Campos said. “Honestly there have been so many peers at this school who have inspired me with their work ethic, kindness and intelligence. I am excited to see the success everyone in my class will have in years to come.”

—This story also appears on the UChicago News website.