Virtual graduation for UW-Madison students overcoming adversity

The Odyssey Project completed coursework virtually and will meet over Zoom for a graduation...
The Odyssey Project completed coursework virtually and will meet over Zoom for a graduation ceremony.(NBC15)
Published: May. 6, 2020 at 2:16 PM CDT
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A special class of students at UW-Madison were celebrated in a virtual graduation ceremony Wednesday night.

The Odyssey Project on campus seeks to help adults, ages 18 to 71 over the years, overcome adversity through two semesters-long coursework. According to co-director of the program Emily Auerbach, students have experienced incarceration, teen pregnancy, domestic abuse, substance abuse, among other barriers to higher education.

This year, the graduation will take on a new meaning.

"Our families are hit hard because they’re already struggling paycheck to paycheck," Auerbach said. "If they’re laid off, they can’t provide food on the table, can't provide the basics. It's really hard to think about school. How can you think about Socrates and Shakespeare when you can't feed your family?"

Natia Saffold is a new graduate. "Before, I was kind of lost in not having money, not knowing what I'm going to do to finish school," she said. "But I knew that I wanted to finish school. The Odyssey really helped me to get my foot in, giving me the stepping stone to finish what I wanted to do."

Saffold now dreams of becoming a lawyer, to help communities affected by racial prejudice. She said her role model has been her father, Corey, who graduated from the Odyssey in 2006.

"It's fascinating to see my daughter take a similar path that I took," he said. "To be honest, we didn't make decisions early on in life that made it easier for us. I had her at a young age and she had her son at a young age. But because of the Odyssey Project we're both able to still pursue higher education."

Honored today among thirty students, Saffold described the Odyssey like a "home."

"It's like a family you can count on, you can depend on. You can’t get that from any program," she said.

Auerbach added that amid the hardships brought by the coronavirus, she has witnessed students support each other financially.

The Odyssey Project also invites the community to sponsor students until the end of May. More information can be found