By: Janette Neuwahl Tannen
The importance of the Hurricane community has not been lost on senior Jenny Hudak.
A few weeks ago, when the University of Miami announced it was postponing graduation because of the coronavirus, Hudak reached out to her friend Will Larossa, another senior and one of the faces behind Sebastian the Ibis. Larossa had asked her to take some graduation photos of him earlier this semester, but now he would need to turn in his signature Ibis suit within days to head home to his family in New Jersey amid the pandemic. Knowing it might be his last chance to don the fuzzy yellow feet that graduating Sebastians wear at commencement as their “reveal,” Hudak met Larossa and two other Sebastians the next morning and squeezed in a shoot before moving out of her dorm.
“I know how much that reveal moment meant to Will and the rest of the graduating Sebastians, so offering to take photos for them to commemorate their three years of hard work was the least I could do,” said Hudak, a media management major in the School of Communication, who has honed her photography skills in and out of the classroom.
Hudak often jumps in to help effortlessly, as she has done for the Student Government as its director of communications this year and in the past as its photographer. She also has been a transfer assistant and an orientation fellow each August, helping new freshman and transfer students get acclimated to the University.
Patricia Whitely, vice president for student affairs, who has known Hudak for years and then saw her in action as part of the student government, called her “the consummate Hurricane.”“Jenny has made a lasting impact with her incredibly positive attitude and spirit; her love of the U; and her incredible skills in photography, graphic communication, and public relations,” Whitely said. “I have no doubt that despite the adversity faced by her class, she will soar like a Hurricane in her chosen profession of public relations.”
Hudak is no stranger to the Coral Gables campus. Her parents met at the University as students in the 1980s, and her father played defensive back for the Hurricanes football team. For the past three decades, Hudak’s father, Ed, has served as volunteer security adviser to the football program, a commitment that includes attending every game (often with the family in tow). He also is chief of the Coral Gables Police Department.
After college, her mother, Alina Tejeda Hudak, rose through the county ranks to become the first female county manager and deputy mayor of Miami-Dade County. She is now assistant city manager for Miami Beach, but throughout her careers she still managed to infuse a love for the University in each of her daughters.
“Before coming here for school, I had probably already spent more time on campus than most students do,” Hudak said. She attended mini ’Canes camp nearly every summer starting at the age of five, first as a camper and later, as a volunteer.
Still, Hudak did not automatically apply to the University her senior year of high school. As a Miami native, she wanted a college experience far away. That led her to George Washington University (GWU), where she spent her first year.
“I thought I needed to leave Miami to grow,” Hudak said. But she felt that GWU did not offer her the full college experience that she sought. The summer after her freshman year, she filed transfer paperwork and in August she started classes in Coral Gables. Within weeks, Hudak got involved and met new friends. She took photos of interesting events during homecoming. Then, the 2017 football season started. The Hurricanes were undefeated when they were set to face No. 3 ranked Notre Dame. After a week of revelry—including an episode of ESPN College Gameday taped from the Lakeside Patio—and an electrifying game, the ’Canes crushed the competition.
“That week on campus solidified the fact that I had no regrets about my transfer,” she said. “I had this feeling of belonging to a campus and to a student body pretty quickly. That was the peak of my football experience as a student, and it made my move back to Miami worthwhile.”
Since then, Hudak has continued to sharpen her photography skills. She has taken photos for the Student Government; in addition, she works as a student writer and photographer for the University Communications division. Word spread on campus about her photographic talent, so Hudak now often receives many requests for graduation photo sessions.
Because she celebrates commencement each spring by taking photos, Hudak was a little taken aback when she realized that she would not be able to walk across the Watsco Center stage this May.
“I was surprised at how emotional I was about it when we got the email,” Hudak said, adding that it was not as much about the ceremony as losing the chance to be with her friends for their last two months of college.
Still, Hudak took the high road and got involved in a University-wide task force to plan a gift for seniors, joining several Zoom calls and even designing a pin that each graduate will receive in the mail. She also learned recently that she was accepted to the Master’s in Public Relations program, so she will be studying at the University for another two years.
“If nothing else, hopefully we will come out of this a little more resilient by just being patient,” she said.
Although she has spent her life sporting orange and green, Hudak said she never appreciated the University community as much as when she became a student.
“Because I’d grown up so knee deep in ’Cane sports, I didn’t quite understand why my parents were so dedicated to UM,” she said. “But being a student here showed me why this community is so special and why I should get involved.”