Class of COVID: India Angelique Luciano

The Class of COVID series allows graduating students the opportunity to say goodbye to SMU in a non-traditional way and reflect on what it’s like to graduate during the COVID-19 pandemic. Seniors who wish to contribute can send submissions to

By: India Angelique Luciano

I’ve always thought that it’s funny how things work out.

I first stepped onto SMU’s campus of polished green grass as a competing member of the track and field team. Over the course of four years, I evolved into a confident researcher, public speaker and emerging thought leader. I am also the first in my family to attend university. There aren’t enough words to describe how it would have felt: walking across the graduation stage with their name, smiling with the knowledge that I owed it all to them.

India, far right, with her family.
India, far right, with her family. Photo credit: India Angelique Luciano

I won’t lie; The thought of completing my degree while surrounded by my 75 plants and 2 cats had me practically skipping across campus the last few days before spring break. But of course, it didn’t take too long for the graver implications to hit me.

Since before February, I had been preparing dozens of handwritten thank-you notes to give to all the kind, warm souls who had helped and mentored me through my journey at the university over the past four years. None of my growth would have been possible without these extraordinary individuals, from heartwarming Derrick at Umph, the maintenance employees who occasionally checked up on me, to my irreplaceable and cherished mentors – Dr. Jill Kelly, Dr. Brad Klein, Dr. Hervé Tchumkam, and Jacqueline Lowrey.

India with her mentors: Dr. Jill Kelly, Dr. Jacqueline Lowrey and Dr. Hervé Tchumkam.
India with her mentors: Dr. Jill Kelly, Dr. Jacqueline Lowrey and Dr. Hervé Tchumkam. Photo credit: India Angelique Luciano

My undergraduate journey most certainly did not go how I planned it – not one bit, in fact. I received a Medical Disqualification (MDQ) from track and field fairly early on in my career due to a number of long-standing mental health issues. However, I refocused all of my energy toward my original long-term goal: helping communities inherently similar to my own.

With gentle encouragement and a series of opportunities, I established Redefining Mental Illness @ SMU with my Embrey Human Rights Fellowship, became senior research assistant for the Voices of SMU Oral History Project, published my first journal article, and somehow ended up speaking at over a dozen conferences from across the U.S. to Mexico.

India presents on the Voices of SMU Oral History Project.
India presents on the Voices of SMU Oral History Project. Photo credit: India Angelique Luciano

All of this was meant to culminate with senior year. I had a few more speaking engagements that I was excited to attend, including conferences in Las Vegas and Moscow in late spring. But perhaps the sweetest accomplishment of all was applying and being accepted into graduate school at American University in Washington, D.C. – something I never expected to do. Celebrating these accomplishments and joys with the very people who helped me obtain them would have been the most gratifying feeling in the world.

India with a poster from her organization Redefining Mental Illness (ReMI).
India with a poster from her organization Redefining Mental Illness (ReMI). Photo credit: India Angelique Luciano

For me, as well as all the mentors, family and friends who were equally as invested in my journey, it does feel like some things have been lost this semester. I’m still trying to work through many of these emotions, and I’m certain new ones will only continue to arise as these days pass by without the special moments they once promised. Neither I nor my family knew what events like Ring Day would entail, but it would undoubtedly have been marked by laughter and smiles.

Funnily enough, I was encouraging several of my track and field teammates to forget about spring convocation last semester. Like track and field athletes from other years, they would have missed graduation anyways for the American Athletic Conference Championship in Tampa. However, I reassured them that they could make their own “graduation” at the hotel they would be staying at and make it a special day regardless.

Well, it looks like I’ll be taking my own advice, and I urge you, my senior class, to follow suit. Moments like these are why we make our own memories. Whether it’s taking cap and gown pictures in your living rooms (there’s nothing stopping us now from including pets in them) or having a graduation over (dare I say it) Zoom with your closest friends, do not deny yourselves any of the joys and accomplishments which we have all earned. We must remember to always be our most authentic selves, and remember our best, most defining moments of our undergraduate journeys at SMU.

India Angelique Luciano is majoring in human rights, political science, and international studies with minors in Arabic, women & gender studies, and history. She will be attending American University in the fall to develop her research in bio-politics, post-colonialism, and Global South relations.

The Daily Campus welcomes opinion contributions from students, faculty and community members. Submissions should be no more than 1000 words and are subject to copy editing. Please email submissions to, and include a cell phone number and a short biography.