Class of 2020: Senior takes a flying leap toward career serving others

Psychology major looks back on athletic victories, forward to graduate school

The water in the reflecting pool in front of Thomas Cooper Library was a little chilly on April 2, 2017, when Rebekah Cloninger and other University of South Carolina students jumped in. But it’s not every day you get to take a cold plunge to celebrate your basketball team winning a national championship.

“That is a memory I will tell my grandchildren one day,” says Cloninger, a Class of 2020 psychology major from Gastonia, North Carolina.

Cloninger has a lot more to tell her future children and grandchildren about her time at the University of South Carolina. Like the night she met A’ja Wilson, the Most Outstanding Player from the 2017 championship team, and got her jersey signed by the former UofSC forward who now plays for the Las Vegas Aces.

“I was so starstruck and I thanked her so much for all that she does for her fans in Columbia and at USC!” says Cloninger, who grew up watching Gamecock basketball. “I was a freshman during the year that she played on the team that went to the national championship and won. That season and the one from this year were two of the best that I have ever seen.”

The COVID-19 pandemic canceled whatever might have been for this year’s women’s basketball team and has obviously wreaked havoc on life in general. Cloninger and the rest of the Class of 2020 won’t walk across the commencement stage in early May, and other final semester rituals — last walk to class, last chicken finger lunch at Russell House, etc. — have been canceled by the virus.

While Cloninger regrets the way her senior semester ended, she’s already looking forward to a career in mental health counseling.

“One of the ways USC has shaped me into who I am today was through crisis management situations. Being a crisis residence mentor at Bates House and minoring in counselor education have given me so many opportunities to learn about myself and others,” says Cloninger, who has completed the requirements for Graduation with Leadership Distinction. “After this coronavirus pandemic began, I have seen firsthand how truly important mental health is in our daily lives, and how to help others who are struggling.”

Cloninger credits Peter Warren, an instructor for two of her psychology courses, with helping her focus a career goal of mental health counseling. She plans to pursue graduate school in the fall. “Throughout the course of taking his classes, he helped me confirm that specialty for me, and his support has been ongoing ever since!”

Choosing a noble career might not call for a leap into the library reflecting pool, but for Cloninger, it is an experience worth sharing one day with grandchildren.

Share this Story! Let friends in your social network know what you are reading about