Grant Floto is a graduating senior at the University of Michigan, majoring in Sport Management with a minor in Law, Justice, and Social Change. Grant has worked as a content specialist and photographer with #UMSocial. He championed the #Victors2020 Instagram project for the @uofmichigan account where he captured the experience of 30 seniors through a photograph and single chosen word.
Can you tell me about some of the challenges and adjustments you’ve had to undergo with having to go home for the rest of the semester?
Definitely. So I think obviously this whole quarantine and COVID-19 situation made it hard for literally every student. But I think there was a different aspect to it for seniors because we were so excited about our last semester. The spring season in Ann Arbor, and being able to do all the cool, fun things that we were looking forward to: going out or hanging out with friends for the last time, and just one more finals season grind together. And we obviously don’t get that, and we don’t get a commencement ceremony.
So I think one of the things that might sound kind of strange that I was looking forward to at school was just literally going to classes one last time. Since that got taken away, I think that really hurt my motivation. It’s hard not being around people who are always motivating me to study and write. So I think lack of motivation is definitely the biggest challenge.
And then getting past the fact that it’s kind of sad that I don’t get all the experiences that I thought I was going to get in Ann Arbor at the end of my senior year and career at Michigan. I also think, along those lines, the lack of social interaction is something that’s been kind of challenging because where I live there’s just not much going on. Not that there’s anything going on anywhere right now, but I’ve been used to seeing so many people and friends every single day in the dorm, and just at school and in class. And then you go from that to seeing, for me, just my parents every day. So that was a big adjustment. And I think it’s kind of just adjusting to this new normal, which we all kind of have to do. I think it took probably two or three weeks to really adjust and understand that this is just what it’s going to be now. And now I’m okay with that.
Were there any things in particular that helped you adjust or cope throughout this process?
Honestly, I feel lucky that we’re students because if I wasn’t a student and didn’t have classes to wake me up in the morning, studying to do, and papers to write, that without that structure and routine, I’d feel really lost.
At the end of every semester, over the past four years, I always make a checklist of the last few things I need to do during the semester, during finals season. So about two weeks ago, I wrote on a little sticky note 10 things that I had left to do. There were four exams, a presentation, a paper, and a few other small assignments. I only have one left, so it feels good to check those things off as I go. And once I’m done Friday, I’m done forever.
Has there been anything particularly helpful or supportive as you’ve made the transition home from the community as a senior?
There are two things that stand out to me. In the sport management major, our classes are relatively small, and I’m pretty close with a few of my professors on a personal level, because I’ve just grown to know them over the years. Them having our backs these past few months has really been important. They’ve been really understanding about the fact that we’re seniors and this wasn’t how it was supposed to end. And they’ve been communicating really well via email and messaging on Canvas, and being super flexible and understanding, essentially saying: “We get it. The circumstance for everyone is different here. Do what you need to do.” So I think that’s one thing—having understanding professors.
And then the senior class really came together on social media, and in texting, and as friends. I feel like it’s what we’ve been talking about for the past month or two, and we’ve all joined together and realized that we’re all in this together. The group mentality became: “We’re the class of 2020. We’re going to go down in history.”
How has your position at #UMSocial helped you interact more with the seniors at this time, or get to know them on a different level?
Once graduation got canceled and everything started going south pretty quickly in March, I talked with Nikki [Sunstrum, the U-M’s Director of Social Media and Public Engagement] and basically just asked what we could do for seniors. I like to focus on Instagram, so I wanted to know what we could do to dedicate the month of April to seniors on that platform. Nikki and I came up with the idea of having a different senior every single day on Instagram in feed during April. I was all aboard. We struggled trying to figure out what to do with the captions, and we came to the conclusion of having each senior describe their four years at Michigan in one word.
I think it really exemplified U-M’s ability to build community. More than ever, I understood my ability to make an impact working with #UMSocial as an intern, by inspiring seniors and making sure they know that their voices are heard. I feel super grateful that I did this project because it was definitely the coolest project I’ve ever done.
Did you get a chance to think of your word?
I did. Spoiler alert: my photo is going to be on the 30th day. My word is opportunity. And I think that speaks volumes about where I want to go after U-M, and literally all the different opportunities that I would not have had without U-M’s help. I think U-M, for everyone, opens doors. And it definitely did so for me.
Getting to hear so many people’s stories throughout your experience at #UMSocial, have you found any common themes this past month with the words that seniors have chosen?
One of the biggest ones is gratitude. I think that a lot of people would have thankful in their top three, including me. That speaks to how much seniors and how much students really love U-M.
Most of the words were super uplifting and positive. I mean, there’s exciting, fun, thankful, opportunity. One person had Pancheros. We had fun with it. It was more than just cliched terms that you might think of. They were meaningful words that, on an individual level, meant a lot to certain people and made us think: “Wow, I get that.”
That’s the beauty of Nikki’s idea with making the quotes one word. The last post on May 1st will have all 30 words. We can see it all come together and see those words and how meaningful they are to everyone.
Can you tell me about some of your favorite memories that you’ve had at U-M?
That’s tough. But I think from a broad experiential perspective, being an RA, resident advisor, for two-and-a-half years was amazing, and definitely one of the best experiences at U-M. I lived on the Hill all four years, which was super cool; and I loved it. I started off as an RA in Alice Lloyd, second semester sophomore year, which really allowed me to branch out. I met a lot of really amazing people, some of my closest friends, by being an RA. I learned a lot of new skills that I think helped me a ton moving forward, including communication skills and problem-solving skills. Being a mentor and a resource for the incoming freshman was super special. I learned how to build a community and build relationships like never before. And I think that was super important for me on a personal growth level.
#UMSocial has also been one of the best experiences and best parts of U-M. I never really found my calling until senior year, until #UMSocial. Going into job recruiting senior year, I wanted one more thing on my resume that would really stand out. So I found the #UMSocial media email address and just randomly sent an email with my resume, cover letter, and portfolio. After two phone interviews, they said, “Welcome to the team,” and here I am. #UMSocial has allowed me to understand what I’m passionate about but also do super cool things like taking photos of Zavier Simpson at basketball games or being on the football field taking photos during the Michigan State and Ohio State games, and completing projects like the senior Instagram grid for April. It has been monumental in my development as a student, and in my professional development, in understanding what I really like to do and what I’m good at, too.
How have you grown since freshman year, and what can you attribute these changes to?
I think one of the biggest things for me has been just my growth in confidence. I came from a really small high school, and when I got to U-M freshman year, I went from big fish in a small pond to really small fish in a massive ocean. I was surrounded by people who I constantly thought were smarter than me and who came from all these fancy backgrounds and awesome high schools and everything. I didn’t totally feel like I belonged here freshman year.
Something that helped me adjust to that was just being myself and understanding that everyone’s path to U-M is different. I finally realized that we’re all in this together. We’re all the same. Yeah, we come from different places, we’re studying different things. But in the end, if you’re here, you deserve to be here, and you worked for it.
What are your plans for the future?
I’m super, super excited that I’ll be moving to New York City this summer to work for the National Football League. I secured my dream job a month or two ago. I’ll be part of the NFL’s Junior Rotational Program, rotating for two years in four different departments at the world headquarters in New York, and then I’ll be placed full-time in one department. It’s literally my dream come true. I can’t wait to get started. And I feel super lucky and grateful to have this opportunity and to be able to do this moving forward. So being a senior at U-M and being done in a few days with college and school is bittersweet. But I have a lot to look forward to.
Do you have any pieces of advice that you could offer to the younger classes of Wolverines?
I think the biggest piece of advice that I would give to underclassmen would be to take advantage of the opportunities that U-M offers. And that can mean a lot of different things. One of the biggest things it meant for me was building my network. Michigan has a ton of incredible people, professors, students, and staff who are more than willing to help you.
This kind of goes along with forcing yourself to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. That’s something that I struggled with freshman and sophomore year: being comfortable in uncomfortable situations. Once you get used to that, your confidence skyrockets and you understand what you’re really capable of and what kind of great things that you can achieve. And I think a lot of that comes with just embracing that uncomfortableness and being confident.
And then lastly, as the Class of 2020 has demonstrated, anything can happen really quickly. So have fun and enjoy it while it lasts. I know how stressful college can be, especially at U-M, and how it’s easy to get caught up in worrying about grades and studying and everything. But I think it’s also really important to be able to take care of yourself and understand that these are some of the most exciting years of our lives. So it’s important to have fun and really enjoy it, and take a second to look around and say, “Wow, I’m really lucky to be here, it’s a privilege to be here, and this is super fun,” because right now I wish I was in Ann Arbor.
Do you think there are any potential silver linings to this situation despite how challenging it has been?
I think this is a great question, and one that a lot of my friends and I have been talking about. I do think there are a lot of silver linings to this situation. I think one of them in particular, for seniors who might be leaving home soon after graduation, is being able to spend time with family and loved ones, and to finally relax after four years.
I think it’s an important time for students, and pretty much everyone, to think about what they hope to achieve moving forward. And this is an important time to understand that we can’t take anything for granted anymore, even the simplest things.
If you could offer any insights to your fellow graduating class, what would those be?
Right now, with everything going on, I think staying positive would be my advice. I know that a lot of seniors are pretty upset, and rightfully so, with the cancellation of graduation. And some of us might feel like we worked so hard for four years and then all of a sudden it seems like everything’s been taken away. But I don’t necessarily see it that way. I think that as important as graduation is, it’s kind of like the cherry on top.
Our career at Michigan and our senior year at Michigan shouldn’t be seen as something that was tarnished because of this. I think you can look at it in another sense and think, “We started with a bang and ended with one, too.” And honestly, I think that’s kind of cool. No one is going to forget about the Class of 2020 because we went out with the most pizzazz of any class, almost ever.
You kind of have to make light of the situation, and just understand that it is what it is. We’re all trying to stay safe and do what’s for the best. Our four years were special, and no one can take that away from us.