As I began a depressing year of “Zoom University,” I remember being hopeful that the shelter-in-place orders would be lifted by June 2020 but was in disbelief when 2020 graduates had an online ceremony. As I approached my own senior year, I was hoping for a sense of normalcy for my last two quarters at UCR, which ended up not happening. Now, the class of 2020 and 2021 have the option to have an in-person graduation. The only catch? There are no guests allowed.
It felt bittersweet reading the announcement made by Chancellor Wilcox regarding the plans for a limited in-person commencement. As a first-generation student, I was looking forward to my graduation ceremony and my family’s plans to throw a party to celebrate. Knowing that my family won’t be able to attend and see me graduate stings. However, I know that when that moment comes for me to walk, my family will still be seeing me and cheering me on.
A professor recently told me that graduating is the culmination of your efforts and should be celebrated by yourself. With the recent announcement, I am grateful for this hybrid way of graduating. I can still get a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in being able to wear the academic regalia and walk across a stage while my name is being read. These past four years at UCR have been filled with stressful study nights, overwhelming weeks and doubts about whether or not I could make it. The moment I turn the tassel on my cap will be mine and mine alone.
Although it would be great to have my family by my side, I know that from the other side of the screen, they will be proud of me. Most importantly, it would mean a lot to me knowing that they are safe and not risking exposure to COVID-19.
Additionally, a limited in-person commencement would make me feel safe. A side effect of being in quarantine for so long, especially when I have been living alone, is that I find myself having anxiety when people are nearby. I feel hyperaware of my surroundings and how many people are around me so much that I wonder how life used to be during pre-COVID times. Even if commencement occurred like past years, I do not think I would participate due to my fears, even now that I am vaccinated. A commencement that allows students to sign up for a specific time block with enforced social distancing and face masks will allow me to feel safe. To me, this is a happy medium. As much as we may wish for things to go back to normal after this global pandemic is over, the effects will still linger for longer; unfortunately, one of the traditions that is paying the price is the commencement ceremony.
It is easy for our worlds to be turned upside down from one day to the next, but to be turned back to what it used to be feels nearly impossible. It is a feat that will take longer than just a couple of good months. Regardless, this method of commencement does not mean you are alone. Your families will be watching and cheering you on. Celebrate your efforts; they are well deserved.