Graduating College During the Coronavirus Pandemic

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On Wednesday, May 20, 2020 I graduated from college. There were little pomp and circumstance, and no formal ceremony as my university did its best to make do with a virtual graduation. In lieu of the usual commencement, which was set to take place on the field of Yankee Stadium, we had video celebrations for each school within the university on Tuesday followed by a live-streamed commencement for the whole graduating class. It was emotional but strange.

Almost everyone in the world has been impacted by the coronavirus in some way. Millions were infected, hundreds of thousands have died, and new cases are still coming daily. Everyone’s life was disrupted and tons of people have their own troubles, so I don’t want to make it seem like not being able to walk at graduation is a major crisis for me.

However, graduation and commencement are really pivotal moments in many young people’s lives. They mark the official start of adulthood, since it’s time to move on from college and finally enter “the real world” (as if most college students don’t work in the “real world” at least part-time anyway).

Virtual Graduations and Classes

Losing those events replaces a period with a question mark. Instead of being sent out, caps flying and eager for what comes next, canceled graduations added another level of uncertainty for young adults entering the workforce. After five years, 128 credits, countless assignments, and millions of words typed for papers, suddenly I was done with college. And then I, on my couch and newly graduated, started writing this while “Bar Rescue” went on in the background. It was weird.

I’m not one for big events usually; a tiny, mostly joking part of me was actually relieved when commencement was canceled because I wouldn’t have to sit out in the sun for hours in a gown.  Since classes at my school went remote the week of March 9th, things really changed quickly from there.

Teachers were encouraged to allow students to learn remotely at first, and then all classes shifted to Zoom by the end of the week. Spring break was coming up, and the first notion was that we’d be back on campus after the week off. That, obviously, never happened. I walked through campus that week without realizing it was my last time there as a student. By the end of March, commencement was called off too.

Virtual classes were strange, and many students and professors had a harder time adjusting than others. Things went smoothly in my classes, but I know the same can’t be said across the board. Ultimately Zoom class became the new normal, and by the end of the semester, it didn’t feel strange anymore.

This week was jarring again though. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about graduating remotely, and even after graduating I still can’t say exactly what I think. But college graduation should feel more significant than this.

Moving Forward 

As of now, my graduation ceremonies weren’t technically canceled but rather postponed indefinitely. The school is not yet sure when or where ceremonies will be moved to, but there’s been nothing but optimism that it will eventually happen. I’m lucky that I went to college in my home state, but rescheduled graduation isn’t much consolation to international students or cross-country travelers whose parents booked travel specifically for this date.

Whatever happens next, missing out on “real” graduation isn’t the end of the world for me. It probably isn’t for anyone in the class of 2020. But we’re all ending college in a strange, scary time of history. Graduation ceremonies and parties are still largely impossible due to the pandemic, and that’s just the reality of the situation we’re in. Accepting that reality doesn’t mean graduates can’t feel emotional about the weird, uncertain wrap to their educational careers.

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