Finding joy: Graduating senior Joy Agwu hopes to improve education policy

Author: Brendan O'Shaughnessy

Senior Joy Agwu speaks about the challenges of the pandemic during the Spring 2024 Staff Town Hall.
Senior Joy Agwu speaks about the challenges of the pandemic during the Spring 2024 Staff Town Hall.

When Notre Dame’s president threatened to send the students home as COVID levels spiked during the 2024 graduating seniors’ first year on campus, Joy Agwu was secretly elated.

“I was like, please send me home,” Agwu said. “It was absolutely miserable. I’m at risk. I had pretty bad asthma, so I was terrified of getting COVID.”

Agwu wanted to be part of the college experience and to build new friendships in her residence hall and beyond, but there was always an emotional barrier: “I wanted to hang out with everybody, but at the same time, I was still very much afraid of them.”

The senior philosophy and English major from Maryland decided to spend her time alone, learning to enjoy her own company even though she’s not a natural introvert. She ate alone, didn’t tell her new friends about her asthma, and missed her sister and family.

Agwu was invited to recount this experience at the Spring 2024 Staff Town Hall because her rector, resident assistant (RA) and roommate played a big part in her ability to live up to her name: Joy. Her rector asked her RA, Sarah Herber, to check in on Agwu, so they took walks outside and talked through the challenges.

“Looking back, I know for me freshman year was miserable,” she said, “but experiencing that, pushing through that, building my own community sophomore year, it helped knowing that at the absolute worst moments, there are people here.”

As Commencement looms, Agwu is certainly glad she endured. Her future starts with two years in the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) program, through which she will teach middle school social studies in Louisville, Kentucky. After gaining firsthand experience in the field, Agwu intends to attend law school so that she can help shape and improve education policy in a divided country.

“My overarching end goal is to help education be the equalizing force it’s supposed to be, not just a pawn for partisan ideals,” Agwu said. “I think the cultural wars going on right now have made the classroom seem like a war place for the future. If we make it this political battleground, it’s going to be unrecognizable.”

Read her full story at