December 2020 graduates share commencement stories

The journey to graduation is traditionally characterized by challenges as students balance work and social life while fulfilling the demanding academic requirements to earn a degree. This year, however, has been unlike any time in recent memory as the coronavirus pandemic has forced everyone to adapt to a new normal.

Meeting the challenge are nearly 3,500 Wayne State University graduates, who will celebrate their successful completion of studies during the winter commencement ceremonies on Tuesday, Dec. 15.

As was the case for the spring graduation, the university will hold a virtual commencement due to the need to continue practicing social distancing as a necessary public health measure. The university’s colleges, schools, and various other departments and divisions have once again collaborated with the Office of Marketing and Communications to plan the event.

The degree conferral presentations for each school and college will be available on

The Class of 2020 includes graduates from all walks of life, who have demonstrated grit and undaunting drive to make it to the finish line despite the pandemic. Their stories resonate with the phrase Warrior Strong, which has become synonymous with Wayne State’s students.

Here are the stories of two Ilitch School students graduating this month.

Kristin Cicala is graduating debt free thanks to a variety of academic and private scholarships, as well as working three jobs. Upon receiving her bachelor’s in fine arts with a major in graphic design and a minor in interactivity and animation through the College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts, the 21-year-old Dearborn Heights resident plans to work full time in the graphic design industry while building her freelance career. Cicala’s also pursuing a certificate in entrepreneurship and innovation through the Mike Ilitch School of Business.

Cicala’s interest in art was sparked as a student at Divine Child High School. “I always loved to draw and design things. I took art classes and realized that graphic arts was my passion,” Cicala said.

Her dedication to art continued when she enrolled at Wayne State and began logging a daily commute from home. “As a commuter student, I was worried that I wouldn’t make friends or feel like I had a true college experience since I was living at home. Upon coming to the university, I met so many great people in my program that I will be friends with beyond my college years.”

Cicala said balancing three jobs, pursuing her academic program and maintaining a social life proved to be a challenge, but one that paid off in more ways than one. “I’m graduating debt free after three and a half years and, in 2019, I became president of the AIGA Wayne State, our student organization for graphic designers. I have been fortunate to gain valuable leadership skills while also expanding my network and learning from other people in the industry.”

Cicala admitted that navigating her final year at Wayne State during the pandemic has been difficult, but she said she’s eager to enter the workforce. “The knowledge and skills that I have gained during my years at Wayne State University have been very beneficial. I want to stay in Detroit after graduation – it’s a great place for design.”

On graduation day, Cicala plans to celebrate at home with family. “Since the restaurants will be closed for dining in, I’ll order my favorite takeout.”

Kianna Mateen has followed her academic and career plan with laser focus since arriving on campus as a freshman. The 23-year-old Detroit resident will realize the completion of phase one of her plan when she receives her bachelor’s in global supply chain management and marketing with University Honors from the Mike Ilitch School of Business.

After graduation, Mateen will return to the Ilitch School and begin the M.B.A. program, with a focus on international business and business/digital analytics.

“After completion of my M.B.A., I hope to work with several companies that focus on sustainable purchases in the areas of fashion, luxury and automotive. Once I've learned from those amazing experiences and have established my career, I plan to also go into entrepreneurship and own a sustainable fashion line,” Mateen said.

The Mike Ilitch School of Business "25 Under 25 Class of 2020" award recipient is grateful for her experience as an undergraduate student. “Wayne State University has provided me with myriad opportunities throughout my educational journey that have assisted me in defining my future goals and discovering my passions. I have been able to discover my love of sustainability, community building, and Detroit during my tenure here.

"I’ve also had the opportunity to gain great leadership, networking and business etiquette skills through various programs. Each academic, professional and social community that I was a part of helped me feel truly Warrior Strong. I am honored to conclude my undergraduate journey with a commencement celebration and transition to graduate school.”

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