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How I Became Even Stronger in 2020

By Gaye Hill

How I Became Even Stronger in 2020

By Gaye Hill
2020was a year like no other. A raging pandemic. Divisive politics. Natural disasters. A decimated economy. Uprisings against racial and social injustice. Many of us struggled mightily through the last year. And yet, against all odds, some alumnae found themselves becoming even stronger in spite of, and in some cases, because of, the challenges they faced. Read on to hear their stories.


Image of Nataleigh Carscaddon and her husband and child.

Nataleigh Timberlake Carscaddon, ’11

“Strong enough to benchpress a Buick.” That’s how I feel after 2020. Circumstances throughout the year (a failed adoption placement, my mother’s sickness and eventual death, adopting our first child) created opportunities for growth that I didn’t even know needed to happen. Strength to ask for help, to know when to rest, to know when to say no, to listen to my gut, to lean in to my faith, to figure out my priorities, to enjoy being present in the moment. Strength to take on each day with one step at a time, sometimes one minute at a time, undeniable strength grew in me nonetheless. 2020 dealt some incredibly difficult times, but it also built strength that has changed me for the better and instilled a confidence to handle whatever comes my way. I’m different now, thanks to the past year, and for that I am thankful.”

Tracy Cook weightlifting at a gym

Tracy Herrick Cook, ’92

“2020 taught me a lot about true strength and making a difference. At the start of the pandemic, I was one month out from competing in my first international powerlifting competition in South Africa, as a member of the USA Powerlifting National Team. I was also heading back to live in the U.S. after being stationed in Argentina for four years during my husband’s final assignment in the Air Force. As a competitive powerlifter, my training had become the constant that kept me grounded. With all of our plans being cancelled and gyms closing upon our return, I was determined to find a way to continue my training, despite the many obstacles. My sister let me set up a small gym in a shed in her backyard. I slowly purchased the equipment that I needed as it came available. I was able to continue my training and it became the means that helped me get through a very challenging year. In the process, I found true joy in being able to share my experience and help others in their own journey to become stronger. I will remember 2020 as the year that I discovered my passion as a strength coach.

Annelise Rogers Landreth in full PPE facing the camera.

Annelise Rogers Landreth, ’11

“As a nurse on a COVID unit, 2020 was unlike any other year in my life. I showed up to work every shift not knowing what new policy was in place or new protective equipment we were to be using. It was a very scary year but through the challenges I also found my love for the field of nursing and for my fellow healthcare providers. More than ever we have had to lean on and learn from each other and not take for granted true social interactions. I have cherished my relationships and found comfort in the strength of my family and friends.”

Krystee Chase standing in front of a Lenovo sign

Krystee Chase, ’18

“Right before the pandemic hit, I took on a new role as a University Operations Specialist, at a new company, Lenovo. Soon after acclimating myself to this new and exciting environment, I quickly maneuvered to tackle the same set of challenges that the world faced. I became stronger with the greater practice of gratitude and introspection, positive side effects of the pandemic. There was a newfound strength that I experienced after taking a breath to value the small things in life. In addition to the pandemic, the heightened social unrest, which stemmed from George Floyd’s murder, was a pivotal moment in 2020. As a result of the turmoil, Lenovo quickly responded to the outcry by donating a significant amount of funds to support HBCUs. Through this generous donation, I was able to pursue my passion for Diversity & Inclusion by managing the recruitment projects and tripling our HBCU Intern Program. Because of my efforts, I received the “D&I Impact Award” for the NA Talent Acquisition team in February 2021. The support of my Lenovo family made it all possible. I’m fortunate to find the silver lining through the challenges of 2020. Through endurance and passion, I am stronger.”

Image of Christina Hooks Copersito's baby

Christina Hooks Copersito, ’07

“Right before the pandemic hit, I learned that I was pregnant with my second child who arrived 10 weeks early and spent several weeks in the NICU. Due to his prematurity, I had to resign my full time job and became a stay-at-home mom while homeschooling my 4-year-old daughter. It’s not easy, but it’s made me stronger and a more well rounded wife and mother.”

Image of Frances Cate Thomas smiling at camera

Frances Cate Thomas, ’76

“My husband has been in a nursing home since 2018. In July 2020 the nursing home (30 minutes from my house) decided not to renew their VA contract, so he was moved to a nursing home two and a half hours away. With Covid restrictions I can’t go into the nursing home, so if I visit it’s at least five hours of driving to stand outside of his window and talk by phone. I rarely go now, because we can have a better visit using FaceTime which can be scheduled once a week. I’d say this type of marriage is only for those with a strong love and commitment in their marriage.

Image of Mary Rawls Whitby smiling at the camera

Mary Rawls Whitby, ’13

“In March, my licensure test (necessary for my career) I had been studying for was canceled after months of preparation. There was no rescheduling, I just had to wait for the October exam. I studied for another seven months not knowing if it would be cancelled again. I took my Professional Engineer Licensure Exam in October 2020 (8 hour, 80 question test). I wouldn’t get the results until December 2020. The studying followed by the waiting was especially hard during a pandemic, cancellations, and also having not passed the test previously. I finally passed and received my license in January 2021. You can now call me Mary Rawls Whitby, PE!”

Image of Megan Greer pushing a child on a swing

Megan Deane Greer, ’03

“My journey to motherhood was an unconventional one. After nearly a decade of struggling with infertility, my husband and I decided that we would grow our family through adoption. Adoption is not for the faint of heart, and a serious but temporary illness of mine almost thwarted our chances. But we hung onto shreds of hope, and in June 2019 our son was born. The euphoria of becoming a mother was intoxicating, and visions of gatherings and celebrations danced in my head. So, it seemed especially cruel when the pandemic brought life as we knew it to an end.
Sometime last spring, I remember suddenly feeling like I couldn’t breathe. My mind was racing, wondering what the future might hold. I realized in that moment that although I can’t change the world, I can focus on making his world happy. This realization didn’t take the sadness out of not hosting his first birthday party, or the loneliness out of not being able to see extended family and friends. But it did make time spent at home cozier, and an afternoon playing outside sweeter. Learning to count my blessings in the small moments has made me a stronger mother.

Image of Keturah Beckham smiling at the camera

Keturah Beckham, ’08

“I am a social worker with WakeMed Hospital. My uninsured and homeless patients faced obstacles in obtaining basic services as agencies closed and patients were waitlisted. I worked on special projects to help reduce some of these barriers and used my position as a Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar to address the need for change. My team is focused on implementing a model of care to address the basic ongoing needs of high utilization across the medical systems. As an adjunct instructor with NC State’s School of Social Work, I witnessed the struggles many of my students faced because of COVID and used my online classroom as a platform to discuss the effects of the pandemic. In addition, I completed a second certification as an aromatherapist, passed my LCSW exam, and am becoming a Licensed Clinical Addictions Specialist Associate. I am enrolled in yoga teacher training and plan to incorporate my enhanced skill set by providing therapy and holistic-based modalities to others.The year 2020 presented obstacles and also many opportunities for growth. I was reminded that my family and friends were my biggest advocates and remained by my side throughout the most trying times. I am beyond grateful for their support.”

Image of Sabrina Brown smiling at the camera

Sabrina Brown, ’17

“2020 has thrown each one of us some curveballs and challenges. With many of us transitioning to being at home a lot, I took advantage of the extra time to think about how I wanted to better myself. I knew at the beginning of 2020, I wanted to continue working towards three things: expanding my professional skills, moving more, and deepening my relationships with friends and family. Through the ups and downs, these three goals are what remained a constant in my life. With some luck, determination, and patience with myself, I was able to make progress on all three goals. A tangible outcome of one of them was becoming an Adobe Certified Marketo Expert, thus certifying my mastery of marketing automation skills with an industry leading automation platform. Preparing for this exam was definitely a balancing act between work, studying, and having some form of a social life; however, my experiences from Meredith and past opportunities reminded me that with the right mindset anything can be achieved if you prioritize it and are intentional.”

Image of Jennifer Hubbard and her niece.

Jennifer Hubbard, ’87

“I’m an introvert, a homebody, so in one way, 2020 felt like a gift. I stepped into a time when the world moved more slowly. I wrote letters to friends, I read for hours on end, and I watched cardinals and brown thrashers build nests in the bushes around the front porch. I studied their patterns, watched feedings and fledglings, kept track of the young birds as they learned what a branch was, what a cat was, what lived beneath the topsoil. There’s a natural order, yes, but it’s such a delicate balance, and I’m stronger for seeing that simple absolute truth playing out in my own front yard.

Image of Lisa Suther Johnson smiling at the camera

Lisa Suther Johnson, ’98

“I have always dreamed of earning my doctorate in education. 2020 helped me to understand that there is no time like the present! In January, I began my first semester at the University of South Carolina. I am on track to earn my Ed.D. in Educational Practices and Innovation with a concentration in Curricular Studies in 2023.”

Image of Hannah Nielsen Kennedy smiling at the camera

Hannah Nielsen Kennedy, ’15

“Since graduating in 2015 I felt like I’d sort of been meandering from one job to the next, trying to create ways to use my English degree and business minor, but not really feeling like I had any direction or accomplishments. After being out of work for months at the start of the pandemic I was able to find work as a waitress at a local restaurant. I was so grateful to have any job and social interaction that I worked harder than I probably ever have at a job, and I made a concerted effort to be a better and more open team-player. This gave me the confidence I needed to improve my networking skills. I sought career counseling, which gave me some much-needed career focus and affirmation. I set up informational interviews with people I admire, which were so unbelievably helpful and inspiring. These conversations reminded me that being a writer is a hustle, and I was inspired to have greater optimism and endurance. I started a job just last week that is basically perfect for my blend of work experiences, and I’ll finally get paid to use my degree! I’m so thankful for this life-changing career reset.”

Image of Yacara Mungo Dozier and a kid

Yacara Mungo Dozier, ’08

“Vision, mission, and teamwork are the three words that best describes how I became even stronger in 2020. Over the past 12 years I have worked in the Early Childhood Education field as an adult educator and program manager. In 2019 I mapped out my 2020 goals; and opening a child care center was in the top five. I mapped out my timeline and resources, with no consideration to a possible pandemic that would shut the country and my industry down. With the support of my team we recreated an inclusive learning environment, marketed to the community and waited to see how it would all work out. There were moments when I could not quite see the light at the end of the tunnel. I wasn’t sure if enrollment would be able to sustain the business, and if my vision and mission would be able to make an impact on the community as originally planned. Now that we are in 2021, and in two months I will celebrate a year of service in the community; I can confidently say we will sustain, we are viable and my vision is becoming more clear.”

Image of Hayley McCraw smiling at the camera

Hayley McCraw, ’15

“When applying for programs in late 2019, I had no idea what was ahead. I chose to attend Appalachian State University’s Clinical Mental Health Counseling master’s program and pursue the Expressive Arts Therapy certificate. My partner had been furloughed and I quit my teaching job before moving to a new city for school. After several upsets I was finally able to procure a graduate assistantship and a few side jobs. I never expected to attend almost all of my classes online, but have been so thankful for synchronous Zoom classes that gave me at least some connection to the outside world. I like to think that not only in spite of, but because of the pandemic, I was able to thrive in my first semester. I didn’t have the distraction of social engagements and was happy to throw myself into my studies. I have picked up many positive learning and organizational habits and I am proud to say that I achieved a 4.0 GPA in my first semester of graduate school in the middle of a pandemic!

Rebekah Shingleton smiling at the camera

Rebekah Shingleton, ’10

“During 2020 when the world was questioning next steps, I kept asking myself the question “What can I do to help?” Then I started thinking about my neighbors, my community, and the people in my small rural North Carolina town. No matter if you’re in a big city or a small town COVID has changed many landscapes and altered normal.

I realized I had a skill that I could activate to help my community. When I earned my master’s back in 2017, I became a licensed counselor or clinical mental health associate as something to have in my back pocket. Seeing people struggle made me want to put that skill into action. I reached out to a local practice and became a therapist at Anchor Family Therapy in Wilson, N.C.

Now, I get to serve my local community and people across the great state of N.C. through in person and virtual appointments. I have the privilege of witnessing change and seeing my clients become their best selves, even in a pandemic! While I may not be changing anything on a global scale, I can create a strong impact and a ripple effect one person at a time.”

Image of Marilyn Lawrence Weiler preaching

Marilyn Lawrence Weiler, ’74

“I am a United Methodist pastor and serve a church in Winston-Salem. In 2019, our leadership team began discussing how we could add a live, online worship link to our website, but we were concerned that our resources were not yet sufficient to produce what we considered a quality worship experience. Then we were quarantined. I had to learn how to do Facebook Live and Zoom overnight. Since then, I have learned how to integrate AV systems; edit video; plan segment diversity and timing; integrate AV newbies; and pull it together for a meaningful interactive worship experience for both the people present and for those who connect via Facebook and YouTube.

While our worship offerings are the most visible way I have grown stronger, I have been blessed to have a devoted lay leadership team and we have all grown stronger as we have cared for one another, continued to learn together in Zoom groups, continued to be in mission to/with our neighboring community, and leaned into the vision of our church: Building relationships with our community to better serve Jesus together. While we still cannot gather in person, we are still effectively being the church.

Image of Happy Neal Goethert cooking

Happy Neal Goethert, ’68

“I have learned to live a little less hectic life. Seeing every day as a true event of my life. I tend a flock of chickens who depend on me daily for food and water and a safe place to exist. I enjoy cooking new things. Working in the growing season on a farm nearby, I see my food from seed to sale and hope others will benefit from the healthy effort I have made.

Winter is the season I feared, so I decided to volunteer with a friend at a food bank where I could put my education to work … even if it is washing dishes. It feels good to do something for others even if it is unseen publicly. It is a safe environment and everyone is glad to do simple tasks.

Most amazing is the fact that after 52 years of marriage I just realized that I have been with my husband for 365 days straight for the first time! He has always had to travel in his work in developing countries for extended times. So the above activities have enabled me to keep a fresh outlook and gives us conversation.”

Emily Vick smiling at the camera

Emily Vick, ’20

“In 2020, I began my student teaching experience, transitioned to remote learning, and began my first year of teaching as a high school math teacher in the remote learning environment. Not only did I get to see how strong and capable I am with the support of the Meredith faculty during student teaching, but also on my own as I started my first year of teaching.”

Blair Roberts and her family

Blair Briggs Roberts, ’04

I became a more present mom! As a stay-at-home mom the “mom duties” are a constant. The quarantine time at home made me realize that they were not as important as spending quality time with my children. We do more hikes, bike rides, playing games and snuggling now that quarantine slowed down life a bit.”

A homemade birthday card

Dorothy White Hartley, ’54

Since I live in a senior village, just had my 90th birthday, and on lock down because of COVID-19, I decided to make my own birthday, get well, and thank you cards. I cut letters from magazines to spell the messages and use photos of memories of the person, all double sided tape to yellow paper. I sign it with a photo of me. Since photo paper is heavy, I copy the whole sheet to cut down on the postage. I usually send three or four sheets of photos. Add a written note and mail. Making my own cards takes much more time then buying them, but I have the time!”

Ashley Dashputre with a student

Ashley Penman Dashputre, ’06

“On March 12, 2020, I walked out of my preschool classroom and never imagined life would do a 180! Once the decision was made for my own child’s education to be virtual, I chose to leave my in-person teaching position to stay home with her. Understanding the need for an engaging preschool education for children who didn’t feel comfortable returning in-person, I opened my own Virtual Preschool Tutor Program (VPTP). This year I served 25 preschoolers across the Triangle, and oversaw all aspects of the curriculum and business. We meet online three times a week, and students engage in home-connection activities, extending learning from the screen into their home.

VPTP also extends into our community! We harvested sweet potatoes for food-insecure families at Everfield Farm in Hillsborough, took virtual field trips to learn about first responders, attended science class by N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, and learned about bees in-person at the Pack House Farm. 2020 gave me the opportunity to build stronger relationships with my students and community, while educating and inspiring our next generation.

Image of cooking ingredients

Becky Newton Bowler, ’87

“In December 2019, just before the pandemic hit the U.S., I was honored to join the board of directors of Hot Bread Kitchen (HBK) – a non-profit focused on creating economic mobility for women, immigrants, and people of color. Our programs include a small business incubator and a job training program.

The culinary industry was turned upside down in 2020, and HBK had to quickly pivot. To continue to raise funds for and awareness of HBK, we held, for example, corporate team-building cooking classes via Zoom. HBK also partnered with several organizations to feed thousands of frontline workers and food insecure families in New York City. I’m very proud of – and humbled by – the resilience of everyone. We have a 10+ year track record of measurable success – and look forward to many more years of ‘investing in bread-winners!’

Lia Hasapis smiling at the camera

Lia Hasapis, ’19

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, I chose to change jobs. I am still in the marketing realm, and I love it, but I have changed from working in a non-profit to for-profit industry. I currently work for a cardiologist as the Marketing Manager in Fayetteville, N.C. Being in this job for less than six months, I have seen change in the practice, from a new social media presence to being out in the public, getting more primary care physicians to refer patients to our office. I am thankful for the opportunity to be able to change jobs during a pandemic. Also I have learned a lot about the heart.”

Image of Malinda Britton Schantz smiling at the camera

Malinda Britton Schantz, ’86

“In 2020, I finished a graduate certificate in Independent Educational Consulting from UC-Irvine and opened my own college consulting business, Runways To College. Though my kids had to return home because of the pandemic, I was busy with classes and then clients. My daughter was a freshman at Tufts University and my son was in the middle of training to be a first officer at PSA Airlines. Their paths were severely altered, but I felt that it was essential for me to hold tight to my goal of beginning a new career, and to demonstrate resilience. Because of the unique “pandemic” circumstances, I had no distractions. I persevered and met some incredible, strong women in my online classes who continue to be my trusted colleagues now. I love my new job, and I can share the benefits of a Meredith education with future students!”

Ashley Beal Clos smiling at the camera

Ashley Beal Clos, ’01

“2020 taught me that I did have the ability to stay in the house for more than one or two days and really not get cabin fever! It also taught me that I did have the discipline to achieve something even though I wasn’t successful at it on the first try. 2020 was a year of struggle in many aspects but looking back at it, I’m not sure it was entirely bad. The year brought my husband and me much closer and I was able to achieve something professionally that I’m not sure I could have achieved in any other year if there had been other distractions.”

Bowl of Homemade Cabbage Soup

Sheila Barnes, ’97

“My son and I decided to donate bags of food to some of our neighbors and focus more on healthy eating. I have been cooking and using more natural ingredients. I am attempting to have a healthier focus physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally. (Photo: my homemade cabbage soup!)”

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