I honestly didn’t expect a normal graduation. I knew we likely wouldn’t all be sitting shoulder-to-shoulder on the academic quad in our caps and gowns. I knew we likely wouldn’t have all our family and friends crowded together in attendance. And I’m not going to argue that we should throw out the COVID-safety rulebook and say: “Give us graduation.” Because no matter what, we will graduate.
Commencement, though, is wholly symbolic. So it feels kind of like a cheat for the college to hold “these small gatherings…in early May,” when we won’t even be done with the semester yet. Yes, I’ll take what I can get, but honestly, what is the point if the thing symbolized—which is simply finishing—hasn’t even happened? Are we just supposed to turn it on for the cameras? Am I just to pretend like I’ve graduated while I wait for my senior thesis to be graded? Should we smile and wave and cheer for our fellow classmates and then retreat back into our rooms to scramble to turn in our final papers before the deadline?
So much of the past year has felt artificial. And to some extent, a virtual graduation ceremony will be, too. It’s not what any of us wanted, but it’s what we’ll get. However, walking down the steps of Old West should be ours. It is a symbolic moment for us—the students—to feel relief and pride and accomplishment for all we’ve done and for all we’ve been through the past four years. It is a chance to come full circle from where we began. I’ve dreamt of that moment since I first ascended Old West at convocation four years ago. So let us come back down when we’re actually done.
Senior grades are due May 19th. Let us walk then. It can still be staggered, spread out, and safe. It can still be filmed and incorporated into a formal video for May 23rd with all the bells and whistles and ceremony that comes with commencement. But I don’t want to perform walking out those double doors and down those steps just for the sake of a video; I want to experience it. So let us. Let us have that feeling of relief and pride and accomplishment when it’s actually our time, not in early May. I know we can’t have normal but let us at least have a moment that is real.