When she arrived at Virginia Tech in the fall of 2019, senior Cara Patrick was not the same enthusiastic and joyful person she’s become over her time as a Hokie. In fact, she admits that she was painfully shy, cringing as she reflected on some of those memories from freshman year.

Patrick knew a shift needed to happen. As she began to step outside of her comfort zone by putting herself out there and embracing the Virginia Tech community, Patrick formed a new identity. She became the fun-loving, servant-hearted student set to graduate later this month with dual degrees in public relations and humanities for public service.

This shift has continued throughout her college career despite a major health roadblock. Patrick was diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease, and rheumatoid arthritis last year. She began to have trouble with her joints and she would hobble across campus from class to class.

“I said, ‘You know what I can do right now? I can go to class. I can make sure I’m writing this paper to the best of my ability,’” said Patrick. “I think that’s where a lot of my energy and motivation comes from for all of my academic pursuits.” 

Patrick’s shaping experiences at Virginia Tech are expansive. She served as a recruitment ambassador for the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. She was accepted into the First-Year Leadership Experience (FLEX) where she learned valuable leadership skills and formed friendships with nearly all of her current roommates.

Patrick was a part of the publications committee for Virginia Tech’s Public Relations Student Society of America, and she continued to hone her PR and event planning skills as a student-athlete development intern earlier this year with Virginia Tech athletics.

For the last three years, Patrick has helped School of Communication first-year students as a Hokie Undergraduate Group (H.U.G.) leader for COMM 1004: First-Semester Experience. It’s here where she utilizes her resourcefulness and kindness to ease the transition into college for the dozen freshmen in her group.

"It has been a pleasure over the last 3 and a half years to see Cara, like a chrysalis, transform from a quiet, shy, first-year Hokie into one of the most outgoing, hard-working, resourceful, helpful, and professional student workers in the history of our Hokie Undergraduate Group (H.U.G.) Leader program,” said Buddy Howell, advanced instructor and architect of the Hokie Undergraduate Group program. “The transition from high school to college for many incoming Hokies in the School of Communication has been made easier because of Cara. She cares about people and loves to serve and for that, and so much more, I will miss her after she graduates.”

It’s Patrick’s commitment to Ut Prosim that stands out. As a H.U.G. leader, she’ll sit down with her group of freshmen and make sure they’re getting acclimated to college through involvement in clubs and organizations, completing homework, and taking care of their mental health along the way.

“It’s really easy to get lost at a big university like Virginia Tech and I try to do my best to help other people feel more comfortable and safe here,” Patrick said. “I really feel passionately about when there are so many things out of your control, I want to help people control what they can.”

Patrick is able to help others in this way because she’s had to work with this mindset herself through her own health challenges that have since improved. Her resolve to put forth her best effort extends from her grandfather. He’s the one who advised Patrick to sit in the front of the classroom and offered endless encouragement before losing his battle with cancer during her sophomore year.

Despite these obstacles, Patrick excels both inside and outside the classroom. Along with earning dual bachelor’s degrees, Patrick is also minoring in international studies. She started an accelerated master’s degree this semester in material culture and public humanities, a program she’ll continue in Blacksburg post-graduation.

“Cara is an exemplary student. She is hardworking, has an inherent desire to learn, and is fully engaged throughout the learning process,” said Chelsea Woods, assistant professor of public relations and Patrick’s advisor in the School of Communication. “On those ‘bad’ teaching days when you feel like you’re struggling to reach or engage with a class, Cara is a student who keeps you going because of her positivity, commitment, and eagerness. I can't wait to see where life takes her, and I'm confident that wherever she goes and whatever she does, she'll have a positive impact.” 

Patrick stays grounded with activities that provide her joy. Every summer, she coaches a youth swimming team in her hometown of Clifton, Virginia, allowing her to continue her love for the sport after swimming competitively for many years. Plus, she’s the president of the Ballet Project at Virginia Tech. She has carved out time to exercise three days a week, choreographing dances and teaching open classes to the public.

Once Patrick dives into her master’s program full-time after graduation, she will decide whether to continue toward a Ph.D. or law school. Currently, her dream job is doing programming and educational outreach for some type of educational institution like a museum.

All the while, Patrick has truly established Virginia Tech as home. Her parents are alumni, but her own feelings were made concrete through the memories she created for herself.

“When we heard that we weren’t coming back from that spring break in 2020 [during the pandemic], I remember the first thing that I said was ‘I just want to go home,’ but I was here [in Clifton], so Virginia Tech is the home that I’m trying to go back to,” Patrick said. “Once I started to feel that I had people who cared for me genuinely and unconditionally, I knew the Hokie community was special.

“I’ve been really busy with every single thing I’ve done, but I don’t regret any of it,” Patrick said. “I get to do so many different things and serve Virginia Tech and myself in a number of ways.”

Written by Cory Van Dyke