As a graduating senior, I would like to say to my class: I am so proud of all the work we have done over the last few years. Congratulations. I would also like to acknowledge that our expectations were completely turned on their head. With this level of upheaval, we will not find a solution that makes everyone happy, and that’s really hard. All of us deserve to feel happy and celebrated this spring.
I would like to acknowledge that our feelings about our senior year are completely different than past classes. This is not just an acceleration of the bittersweet celebration of graduation. We are not just feeling sad about saying goodbye to our home for the last four years, while looking forward to a world we are helping to shape.
Our ending here does not feel bittersweet. It is one of mourning more than celebration. It feels like it’s more about what we have lost these past few months, not what we have accomplished. On top of that, we are grieving jobs and internships that have been lost before they even started. Opportunities that were there to look forward to, and then gone. Our plans for the future have been swept out from underneath us.
So how do we acknowledge those feelings, while trying to still remember that we have so much to celebrate, even if it doesn’t exactly feel that way?
I hate the idea of a Zoom graduation, I really do. But I think it is the best chance we have of getting the most people there and reaching many. We are no longer on campus counting down the days. We are scattered across the world.
I think we should start with some sort of digital celebration. Stream programming with our class speaker, a last lecture, maybe some messages from our SGA presidents, the administration, department heads, ect. Some messages from people we miss the most.
Will it be the same? Not even close. And I don’t think it should try to be. It should strive to be something that lets the class of 2020 know that they are in our thoughts, and that we care about reaching them where they are right now. That we want to celebrate them in little ways now, to give them some closure and send them off into the world in the best way we can.
We should not try to replace walking across the podium, shaking the president’s hand and getting our diploma. We should not replace senior week or signing our name up in Old Main. In fact, I think some attempts to replace that digitally could ring false and even slightly insulting.
I don’t think anyone thinks that signing our name on a digital wall is the same as writing on the walls of Old Main. Or even that a digital yearbook that they are assembling is the same as a physical one, printed and mailed to us. We are all a little tired, I think, of trying to create digital experiences that replace the here and now. And while it is such an excellent tool in times like these, with something as old, traditional and honored as graduation, it would be meaningful to have something tangible.
Which leads me to my next thought. In 2021, I would love to see a graduation ceremony. It will look really different because there will be folks who, for whatever reason, cannot make it. We will have all already spent a year working, studying, traveling or figuring things out. Our minds and hearts will not be in the same places they are today, as we grieve the last days of our senior year.
However, we will be together again and it will be a chance to really celebrate in a way that looks like an actual party or ceremony. I think the energy would be unreal by having everyone that can come back and see each other and reclaim part of what we lost and have a chance to truly celebrate, when we have more emotional space to do so.
Together, between digital and real life experiences, I think we can create a graduation ceremony that reflects the individual challenges our class has overcome.