On a sunny Spring day in May of this year, Aurora Lucie Henriksen donned her cap and gown and happily walked across the William Woods campus.
But despite the time of year and her choice of attire, there was no commencement taking place. No throngs of proud parents and family members snapping photos of their graduates. No strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” in the air.
That’s because Henriksen, an international student from Norway, actually graduated in 2020, the ill-fated Spring of COVID-19. Which meant she had to go home in March of that year, like untold numbers of her fellow students, never to experience going through the joy of commencement on campus.
“In the moment, I don’t think I really had the time to reflect upon it,” she remembered, recalling the dark early days of the pandemic. “As we all know the world was a strange place at that time and I was just trying to stay positive and make the best out of all that happened. However, when I saw pictures of my class graduating it really hit me just how much I really missed WWU and that I did not feel quite done yet. It started a process of reflecting on my years at The Woods, and it was very good to be able to come visit this Spring and get some closure and take pictures to keep for a long time.”
So shortly after obtaining her Master’s degree in Mathematics from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway in May, Henriksen made her first return to the William Woods campus since she had to leave so suddenly for home in March 2020. Accompanied by her brother, she finally got to put on her WWU cap and gown and snap those precious graduation photos. She even received some much-appreciated assistance from campus maintenance, who unlocked some campus buildings so Henriksen could show her brother around, snap more photos, and reminisce.
“It was so incredible in many ways,” said Henriksen. “It was my brother’s first trip across the pond ever, so it felt very special to be able to show him the life I had had at William Woods. “It was just so wonderful to be able to reminisce and share this with my brother. In a sense, I felt a bit homesick and have to admit wished I still had a semester or two left at The Woods.”
Having earned her Master’s degree in Math and secured her first job this year, Henriksen is someone who is clearly going places. But on that Spring afternoon on the William Woods campus, she had finally come home.
A native of Narvik, Norway, Henriksen actually came to the U.S. and Fulton before enrolling at WWU. In high school she did an exchange year with American Field Service, and was randomly placed with a host family in Fulton. She thoroughly enjoyed her time at Fulton High School, where she played soccer for the Hornets, and was noticed by then WWU Women’s Soccer Coach Randy Hall. She was offered an opportunity to play for the Owls soccer program, and decided to stay and enroll at William Woods. There, she found a warm and welcoming college community, which made acclimating to higher education in a foreign country thousands of miles from home fairly smooth.
“From the very start the University made sure I had people looking out for me and people to go to,” she said. “I genuinely felt that people cared about me on a personal level. Coach Hall and the soccer team quickly became my family when the inevitable homesickness did kick in, but I felt so safe. The Woods became my home away from home.”
She took with her so many fond memories from her time at WWU, but one that stands out in particular took place on the pitch. During Henriksen’s freshman year, the Owls earned a spot in the American Midwest Conference championship game by defeating Park University in a thrilling contest, scoring the tying goal with 2.9 seconds left in the game to force overtime and then prevailing on penalty kicks.
“It was quite cold outside, but despite the weather it felt like the whole school had come out to Firley Field to watch and cheer us on,” Henriksen remembered. “We went into penalty kicks and I’ll never forget the feeling of running back after scoring and just celebrating. When we did finally put in the winning penalty kick, the crowd stormed the field! It was just one of those moments I’ll always cherish until my memory is gone.”
Henriksen was on track to graduate from The Woods in 2021 with a double major in Mathematics and Physics, but due to COVID was forced to graduate a year early in 2020. This meant missing out on a class she needed for her Physics degree, so she ended up with just a Bachelor’s degree in Math.
Next up for Henriksen was a Master’s degree at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) where, unexpectedly, the William Woods connection continued to pay off.
“When I got in (to graduate school), I actually called Chris Schneider, my former advisor from William Woods, and he helped me out with subjects and in choosing a path forward,” she said. “I so appreciated this as at the time Norway was still very much locked down and it was hard to get any advising there. I think this is just one more testament to how I felt the faculty, staff and people of The Woods genuinely care.
This Spring she graduated from NTNU with her Master’s degree, which led to her first position, as a Cybersecurity consultant with Atea Norge AS, a leading supplier of IT infrastructure throughout northern Europe. Located in the company’s headquarters in the Norwegian capital of Oslo, she is excited to learn about how theoretical security that she has studied as a mathematician fits into the actual security we all use in our day-to-day computer life.
But before she embarked upon her exciting new career, Aurora Henriksen made the shrewd calculation, like any sound mathematician would, that revisiting her beloved William Woods one more time was something she longed and needed to do.
To go “home.” To get come closure on her William Woods experience. And to say thank you. “I have been fortunate to have so many people looking out for me and helping me to where I am today. Many of these people I met at William Woods and I feel so grateful. Coaches, professors, administrators, friends and so on – thank you – you know who you are!”