For the class of 2020, graduation season looks a little different. Instead of preparing for proms, luncheons, trips, and commencement ceremonies, graduates across the nation were handed a devastating blow when they learned that not only were their graduations, but events leading up to it would be canceled due to COVID-19. Traditional feelings of closure, accomplishment, completeness, and overall joy, have now been replaced with sadness and disappointment over the fact that one of the most important and happiest moments in their life, what they have worked hard for, will no longer happen.
Nicole Osborne, a Graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, said, “A lot of people in my cohort were expressing disappointment because there’s no celebration to acknowledge the mental, physical, and spiritual toll that this has taken on a lot of us. Especially being in the mental health graduate program, it’s taxing. It’s very emotionally taxing. And because graduation was supposed to be a time to celebrate all that we have been through, both as a cohort and individually, having a celebration and putting a title and name to it hurts. The part that I’m sad about the most is not being able to see my family. Especially since we’re all over the place, I was more so looking forward to spending time with my family and reconnecting and having those moments of love.” She then followed up by saying, “Graduation is also an investment. We had to pay for graduation fees, pay for our cap and gown, and now we don’t know what we’re supposed to do with it. The school has said that people were more than welcome to attend the December graduation, and for some people, that’s not realistic because we will be in our careers.”
The feeling of disappointment at not being able to celebrate with family was also felt amongst twins, David, and Daniel Tolbert, graduating seniors at the University of San Diego. Daniel said, “The actual ceremony isn’t what I’m most upset about; it’s more of not being able to celebrate with my family and extended family.” David reiterated Daniel’s feelings saying, “I share the same sentiment with Daniel. I don’t want to say that graduation was more for my mother and father, but I know that they were looking forward to the planning of parties and different events. So more than anything, I feel bad for them.” When asked how they felt about no longer being able to attend classes, David said, “I am upset about not being able to walk on campus or attend classes with my classmates. You don’t go to a four-year university to have it treated as an online institution. A big part of why people pay to go to USD is because of the campus and scenery, and that’s now been stripped away from us.”
Rather than cancel the graduation altogether, USD has announced plans to postpone the ceremony until October so that it coincides with their homecoming festivities. Though this initiative is appreciated, the general feeling surrounding the new date has been described awkward with Daniel saying, “I don’t see myself being excited to have graduation in October, because it’s kind of awkward. Like who’s to say that all of the graduates will be in the San Diego area in October. I feel like, at that point, everyone will be ready to move on.”
For Christian and Elijah Nix, this year’s graduation season was supposed to be a extra special time in their household, being that both were set to graduate from elementary and high school. Christian Nix, Senior at Chicago’s Mount Carmel High School, said, “I think, emotionally, it’s disappointing. It’s just really unfortunate that we have this pandemic going on, and yes, it’s more important to focus on safety, but at the same time, it’s disappointing that I was at Mount Carmel for my last day, and didn’t even realize it. I won’t have graduation or prom, or any of those senior things that every class normally gets to do.” As far as his friend’s feelings and what the school is planning on doing to acknowledge them, Christian said, “My classmates and I have been talking about this, and it’s just really sad because we all miss the camaraderie, especially since we attend an all-boys school. My school hasn’t said anything about doing something virtually, but we have had faculty members drop off signs to celebrate the class of 2020. There have also been social media posts about the Mount Carmel class of 2020, to give us some appreciation and celebrate us.”
Christian’s younger brother Elijah Nix, who is an eighth-grader at St. Thomas, the Apostle Catholic School, shared the same feelings, saying, “You’re only going through eighth grade once, and not having that moment kind of sucks. I’ve talked to my friends a lot about this, and they all feel the same way. My school hasn’t said anything about graduation being postponed, so I think it’s just canceled. But my mom is going to plan graduation for me, which I appreciate.”
After watched her older brother graduate from eighth grade last year, Cassidy Knox of Morgan Park High School’s Junior High program was looking forward to participating in the same activities. When asked about her feelings surrounding the cancellation of her graduation, she said, “It’s disappointing because I expected to graduate and participate in all of the events that usually go on. My friends and I knew this was going to happen, and they’re disappointed, but not as disappointed as I am. I saw my brother graduate last year, and I wanted that. He went on his eighth-grade trip, had a luncheon, and I was looking forward to that. And now I feel like I’ve put in work for nothing.” Not knowing whether her school will be holding something virtually or if the graduation has been postponed, Cassidy followed up saying, “I’m coping with this by finding ways to celebrate how we would usually graduate. Like setting up a small graduation ceremony with a couple of my friends when outside opens back up.”
Not only are graduates upset, but families of this year’s graduating class have expressed their frustrations as well. However, instead of waiting to hear about how the schools will recognize their students, many have decided to take matters into their own hands and come up with different ways to celebrate. Keri Rochelle, mother of Cassidy Knox, said, “Honestly, I saw this coming, so I was already mentally prepared for it to happen. When we first got the extension, I had to cope with them. And now, with the cancellation, I made up in my mind that I would do something special for Cassidy on my own. These graduates are suffering, but that doesn’t mean that we still can’t celebrate. So I am going to do something to acknowledge her, to celebrate this milestone in her life and just recognize the work that she has done. And that helps to keep her optimistic.”