Graduating amid a Global Pandemic

by Allie Pizzemento

Coronavirus has shattered life as we know it and for 2020 graduates it dramatically changed the end of their academic journey. In-person classes went virtual, extra-circulars were cancelled, and graduation ceremonies were put into question. Graduates were left wondering; now what?

For many students, their senior year is crucial for a successful transition from student to working adult. Senior year is when students are taught how to turn their abstract knowledge into hard skills beneficial to the workplace. During their last months in school, students attend countless job fairs and career seminars. It is when they gather recommendation letters and meet with career counselors on campus.  Due to distance learning, much of these opportunities were lost, however, graduates learned other lessons that they may not have otherwise. They learned time-management skills, and self-discipline from navigating online coursework. They learned to appreciate the resources they have and the support team around them, their teachers especially. 2020 high school graduate Hannah Grimsley, 18, states “Being in quarantine taught me to appreciate the little things in life and to be grateful for what I could do before the pandemic.” Unfortunately, most people learn about gratitude at an older age, but for these graduates, this harsh lesson in gratitude will be carried with them for the rest of their lives.

Graduating in 2020

A graduation ceremony is the symbolic closing of a chapter; it’s a moment for students to sit back and say, “I did that.” It is an opportunity for students to say goodbye to their peers, their professors, and to their own identity as a student. While many graduations were cancelled or postponed, many were still able to celebrate in their own ways. Graduation parades became extremely popular because they enabled family, friends, and community members to show their support safely. Some families rented billboards, decorated front-lawns, and painted cars to acknowledge the graduate in their lives. There were even celebrity-hosted events on television and social media platforms congratulating the class of 2020. Madeline Smith, a 2020 college graduate said “I enjoyed [the home celebrations] more than I would have an in-person grad ceremony. It felt more personal and more thoughtful than anything the school would have been able to put together. It was the best way to celebrate given the circumstances, I believe.”

Some schools still held ceremonies with the appropriate safety precautions in place. For some schools, that meant a parade-like ceremony where students drove through campus, were able to hear their administrators and teachers speak, and received their diplomas in-person. Of course, everyone socially distanced and wore masks the entire time. For other schools, this meant holding regular ceremonies outside, again with strictly enforced social distancing and wearing masks. Ms. Grimsley’s high school held a standard ceremony and she claims “I definitely think all the precautions were worth it. Graduation is such a big milestone in life that I’m thankful I got to experience. I’m also thankful that my parents got to see me graduate because it’s important to them to make sure I succeed in everything I do.”

So, while many graduates lost out on their official ceremonies, their communities banded together to recognize their accomplishments and lift them up. For many, the efforts to make up for the lost ceremony was more meaningful than the ceremony itself would have been. These celebrations became a bright spot in such dark times. It reminded us all that there is still a future ahead of us, a future that these graduates will shape.