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COVID graduation: The bittersweet feeling of “freedom”

It’s been quite a year… And in spite of its few silver linings, plowing through Zoom calls and online examinations only exacerbated the desire of students to get this academic year over with. With the uncertainty dictating our lives, envisioning “graduation” during COVID revealed itself to be even more of a challenge and a roller coaster of emotions.

Still, this important transition was celebrated in a variety of ways across the nation. We asked graduates who were recently granted their freedom about the bittersweet feelings behind such an experience.

An attempt at reality

It was nothing like what I expected.

Amanda, Cornell University

Among other colleges like Duke University and New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, Cornell University was one to make an in-person graduation possible for its students. Amanda, who recently graduated from the institution, shared her feelings with us following the event.

“I was relieved and grateful we were able to have some sort of in-person ceremony,” she said.

“However, it felt a bit impersonal that we didn’t get to walk across a stage or hear our name announced. I was so glad to be allowed 2 guests, though I wish my whole family was able to watch in person. In classic Ithaca fashion, the weather was gloomy and cold, but it almost felt like the perfect way to culminate my experience at Cornell.”

A COVID graduation… on Zoom

Unfortunately, an in-person commencement was not the choice of every college. Padma, a graduate student of NYU, explained she was grateful for one thing. This was in fact her master’s graduation and not her bachelor’s.

I would be really devastated if it was my undergraduate graduation ceremony this year, because one can get as many masters as they want, but a bachelor only happens once in a lifetime.

Padma, New York University

NYU’s mention of an in-person commencement fell through relatively quickly. This was to the understandable sorrow and frustration of many, especially as restrictions seemed to loosen.

The university’s ceremony was held on Zoom. And in spite of efforts, it could not equate to what graduation is truly supposed to be like. The students’ disappointment, made worse by the year that led up to it between unchanged tuition fees and lack of human contact, was rather unanimous.

The disconnected feeling of celebration and the lack of opportunity to take graduation photos as one traditionally does in front of the arch at Washington Square Park, all contributed to the particularly bittersweet taste of this year’s transition to freedom.

I don’t know what a master’s graduation was like before Covid-19, but I’m sure the atmosphere was definitely more formal, celebratory, and real.

Padma, NYU

For students this academic year, finding silver linings in the unexpected

Despite the ache of not having graduation take place in person, the circumstances let some students get creative. Trinity, another graduate student at New York University, shared her own adventure with us, starting with this:

NYU ditched me on graduation, so I ditched NYU for Hawaii!

Trinity, New York University

Granted, that may not be the traditional take on the event. But taking the good with the bad, the group of recent graduates sought to create their own unforgettable experience on the special day.

“A couple of friends and I planned our graduation trip to Hawaii after we heard that we wouldn’t have an in-person graduation,” said Trinity from NYU.

“I mean, what could be cooler than wearing your bikini under your graduation gown and having a graduation ceremony at the beach? We zoomed in to the virtual commencement at 4 am local time. Just to catch the moment when our names were called. Then we fell back asleep, ready for a day full of activities in the nature.

It was THE BEST GRADUATION experience I’ve ever had! Yes, not having an in-person graduation basically means not having a graduation at all. But we found a better (and hotter) way to celebrate this significant journey and transition of ours, together!”

Trinity, NYU

A COVID graduation isn’t ideal, but it means just as much, if not more, as any other year

Graduation isn’t quite replaceable. It’s a transition that happens once, maybe twice, or a handful of times. But each one signifying a new chapter in life.

It is with heartache that for another season yet, we had to watch these accomplished students throw their caps in the air at a distance or through a screen. But in no way does the peculiar unfolding of events take away the value and importance of what graduation represents.

We wish every one of the students from the recent academic year the greatest of successes in the future; one that is hopefully brighter and more real than the past year proved to be.