BEMIDJI -- Tessa Solo didn’t think she would ever graduate college.

Now, this spring she is graduating from the Early Childhood program at Northwest Technical College.

Unfortunately, like many members of the class of 2020, she’s found herself in a situation where the meaningful event of commencement and celebrating her achievement with family and friends has been taken away.

This setback hasn’t stopped her from leaping headfirst into a career field that has been flipped upside down by COVID-19.

Solo, originally from Williams, Minn., was an active, three-sport, high school athlete. After high school, she attended Northland Community and Technical College in Thief River Falls to play softball, but wasn’t seeing a clear path for what she wanted to pursue for a career.

After spending a summer working in her sister’s daycare and interacting with her young nieces, Solo realized she wanted to work with children and made the move to NTC.

“I was really passionate about working with the kids locally at my sister’s daycare,” she explained. “It was really nice to (get to) know all of the neighborhood kids and get to watch them. They are really motivated to learn."

Since starting at NTC, Solo has gained hands-on experience working with Bi-Cap Headstart, a Blackduck kindergarten classroom and at an in-home daycare.

Helping to put on an annual Halloween event for over 1,000 kids was one of her proudest accomplishments during her time at NTC, she said.

Solo has already accepted and began a position as a lead teacher for the KOOTASCA Head Start preschool program in Grand Rapids, Minn.

She began this position in February -- and after only a month of teaching -- had to transition to distance learning. This is a difficult task for any teacher, but particularly difficult when teaching students who are so young, she explained.

“I was there for about a month and then I had to get thrown into that,” she said, laughing.

Most of her communication with her students now takes place over Facebook videos.

Solo is disappointed that her senior year will end without a celebration.

“I’m kind of bummed that I don’t get to walk (at commencement) because it’s like the biggest achievement of my life,” she said. “I practically saw myself working for minimum wage the rest of my life, I never thought I’d graduate from college, so just receiving the piece of paper will be the most exciting part.”

In lieu of an in-person commencement, Solo and the rest of the NTC class of 2020 will be celebrated during a virtual Zoom commencement on Thursday, May 7 at 9 a.m.

The event is open to all students, families and college representatives and will include messages from President Faith Hensrud, Vice President for Academic Affairs Darrin Strosahl, academic deans and more.

According to NTC's announcement, a formal commencement ceremony will be planned for a later date.