Jocelyn Rives is eager to don her cap and gown this weekend to attend the Class of 2020 Commencement to celebrate the achievement of overcoming challenges and becoming the first in her family to earn a college degree.
Jocelyn Rives ’20 had her sights set on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill since she was in the fifth grade. Though nobody in her immediate family had attended college, her godmother was a Carolina alumna and inspired Rives to follow in her footsteps.
This weekend, she’ll have the opportunity to live out that the highlight moment of that goal when she turns her tassel in Kenan Stadium, officially marking a significant milestone for her and her family.
“Getting to attend the ceremony symbolizes the achievement of getting through all the struggles of college,” said Rives, who studied exercise and sport science with a concentration in sports administration. “My family and I are excited for the ceremony — finally adding the last piece to complete my college experience.”
That college experience was full of new opportunities for the Tar Heel from Bear Creek, North Carolina.
In addition to her exercise and sport science studies and minor in philosophy, politics and economics, Rives participated in many extracurricular activities at Carolina. She competed on the club basketball and handball teams, raised money for UNC Children’s Hospital with Carolina for the Kids, served on the Carolina Union Activities Board, joined Phi Alpha Delta and worked as a photographer for UNC Special Olympics and the Daily Tar Heel.
Rives relied on her busy line-up of organizations to find her place on campus and acclimate to a new environment as a first-generation college student. It’s a tip she’d pass along to Tar Heels facing similar challenges.
“Advice I would give would be that, ‘You belong here. You are here for a reason. Don’t let anyone tell you anything different. Don’t give up. You worked hard to get here. You are not alone. Join a club, go to events, meet people,’” she said. “It seems hard, I know, but you’ll thank me later.”
The one experience that was missing, Rives said, was the official celebration of all that she had achieved as a Tar Heel and the barrier that she broke in her family. She’s eager to don her cap and gown this weekend to attend the Class of 2020 graduation ceremony.
“It felt great [to earn my degree],” she said. “I did feel like a piece was missing since I didn’t have my ceremony. But all in all, I felt relieved. My hard work had paid off, and I made my family proud.”
Rives said the ceremony this weekend will mark the beginning of another chapter in her life. But since graduating in May 2020, she’s already begun writing it.
She has stayed close to the Carolina community, working as a teacher assistant for special needs children in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and serving as the middle school JV volleyball coach.
“My favorite part about my job is connecting with all the children,” she said. “I have a student that loves ‘Frozen.’ I dance with her all the time in the classroom. Being able to bring smiles to their faces warms my heart.”
By Brandon Bieltz, University Communications