One of the first stories I wrote as an intern for The Riverdale Press was about some lingering questions surrounding Manhattan College’s upcoming graduation. My classmates and I had no idea who would speak at our graduation ceremony, nor did we know how many guests we were allowed to have.
I never anticipated the answer to these questions would turn out to be “no one” and “zero.”
I am in the same position as high school and college seniors across the country. No end-of-year celebrations. No prom. And, in a devastating blow to everything we worked so hard for, no graduation.
Admittedly, many institutions, including Manhattan College, are committed to celebrating us in one way or another. And I appreciate the effort. But Zoom parties and cute posts about us on social media are just not the send-off the Class of 2020 was hoping for.
Speaking for myself, I worked unbelievably hard to get to the finish line of graduation. Just this past semester, I was working two part-time jobs on campus, had an off-campus internship at The Press, and held senior leadership positions in four on-campus organizations.
And I did all of this while maintaining a GPA that would allow me to graduate summa cum laude.
Those are all reasons for me to celebrate. And every member of my graduating class had their own lives to balance while getting their education. Graduation was where it was all supposed to pay off. And now we’re spending what was supposed to be a week of celebration stuck in our homes with little to celebrate.
“You should celebrate your health,” you might say. “At least you don’t have the virus. There’s so much to be thankful for!”
Is there really?
On top of missing out on some of the most pivotal moments in our young lives, those of us entering the workforce now have to look for work in a country with a 14 percent unemployment rate, in what is now the most dismal job market since the Great Depression. Many companies are not hiring, and many of us had summer internship and job offers rescinded because of the virus.
Our world looks pretty bleak right now, and the future is uncertain. So the Class of 2020 might not feel like being “grateful” right now.
Having our final half of the semester unceremoniously yanked away deprived us of more than just a graduation ceremony. It took away the time we needed to facilitate a proper transition, whether from undergrad to post-grad or from school to the workforce. It took us away from our friends, some of whom went from living a 10-minute walk away to living across the country. And for many of us, it took away a place we called our home.
I’m finding that many people who are telling me to “get over it” are people who have already graduated, who have already seen the joy in their families’ eyes when they walked across the stage and were handed the most expensive piece of paper they will ever hold.
Meanwhile, I get to sit by my front door, waiting to receive that same piece of paper — not from the president of Manhattan College, but from my mailman. And while that is no one’s fault, it is still something I am allowed to be upset about.
Was I really looking forward to sitting in a smelly and sweaty gymnasium for hours on end, while all 800 of my classmates’ names were called? Not necessarily. I was more looking forward to the looks on my family’s faces when I showed them my diploma.
I’ve worked hard, but they’ve worked even harder to support all of my academic endeavors, to ensure I had the best education I could possibly have. This is so much more than just a moment of pride that was taken away from me. It was taken away from my entire family.
What is particularly important is striking a balance. Our inability to celebrate our completion of school is the least of the world’s concerns right now, but we can also grieve and feel sad because we can’t celebrate our achievements the way everyone except for us either got to or will get to.
Allow the Class of 2020 to grieve as we see fit. We may not have lost someone, but we did lose pivotal life experiences our parents and older generations still talk about years down the line. The fact that we won’t get to do that is more than deserving of our grief.
What fills me with the most grief is how I’ve gained perspective. Twelve weeks after writing that first story about Manhattan College’s graduation for The Press, I’ve realized I would rather have a graduation with no keynote speaker than not have a graduation at all.