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Having graduated early in December, I knew I was in for a different graduation experience, but I definitely didn’t know that the coronavirus graduation experience (or lack thereof) was what was waiting for me.
If you'd asked me four months ago what my plan was after college, I would have said I was taking a month off to travel before coming back to begin the job hunt. If you had asked one of my peers, she would have told you she intended to explore the world for six months to find herself. Another would have told you she'd found a job and was planning to move to New Zealand as soon as possible.
Most December 2019 graduates also would have told you that they would be returning to their universities come May to participate in the essential week of celebration surrounding their respective commencement ceremonies. For a lot of us, this was to be an important opportunity to meet up with friends again after moving away. We were all looking forward to a return to what we had left behind, as a break from the reality of becoming working adults.
I knew life after college would be challenging, and fully expected to have some difficulty as I figured out what to do with myself besides job hunting. I felt a very palpable stagnation in myself while the world seemed to rush forward around (and without) me. I was trying to find my place in all of it while also trying not to fall behind. I looked forward to my spring commencement ceremony as the milestone that it is, but also as a reassuring signal that I was moving forward.
Then COVID-19 happened.
And even though I already felt like I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off, I suddenly felt like I had not only lost my head, I wasn’t even running anymore. I was just spinning in a circle and all of my friends were spinning with me (six feet apart of course).
All at once, our lives have come screeching to a halt. Now more than ever, we simply have no idea what we’re supposed to be doing. Friends still finishing up their senior year are suddenly deprived of their last semester on a college campus. Recent graduates embarking on their celebratory trips around the globe were abruptly called back home. And though we were already at rather unsure points in our lives, we are now even more confused.
Honestly, sometimes I still feel very much like a college student. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m pretty confused a lot of the time these days or maybe it’s because I might never actually wear the graduation cap and gown that’s been hanging in my closet for three months. The bittersweet nature of saying goodbye to our college selves is exacerbated by the fact that all those exciting graduation plans have most likely been postponed if not cancelled forever. A graduation trip that was supposed to be a last hurrah with my friends is now a highly unrealistic and irresponsible idea, and many of our parents have had to cancel hotel bookings they made more than a year ago to watch us parade around campus for the last time in cap and gowns.
I think we're feeling the loss of these graduation plans more deeply because of how serious everything is these days. Everybody is understandably suspended in constant states of worry as the severity of the situation never quite seems to lessen. The loss of our innocent days as freshmen with nothing to worry about but studying is an even more common topic for discussion now than it was before.
That being said, I’m happy people are still finding reasons to smile, that families are spending time together, and that pets are getting extra attention from their humans. We can all make the choice to see the glass as half full rather than half empty.
In the light of our recently cancelled college graduation, my friends and I have decided to plan our own version of commencement (that we'll likely find less tedious than the standard university-controlled ceremony). We’ll give our own speeches reminiscing about our college years together and celebrate however we deem fit without wasting hours listening to the names of people we barely met in passing. We won’t have to hide snacks in our gowns to survive the hours of speeches that usually await us in the stadium, nor will we have to wake up at 7 a.m. to leave enough time to find each other in the massive crowds.
We will also eagerly await a green light to reschedule our graduation trip. Who knows, maybe we’ll get to have a second little commencement ceremony on a tropical beach or floating in a pool.