“Leave Meeting.” That’s how my last class of college will end. I will click a button, log off for the last time, and sit in my living room, maybe dressed for the occasion, maybe not. Maybe I’ll get takeout from a restaurant to celebrate. Maybe I’ll just have boxed macaroni and cheese. No matter what I do, though, I will not be walking across a stage, I won’t be sharing emotional goodbyes with my friends, I won’t be thanking professors and advisors who helped throughout my college career, and I won’t be graduating the way I expected.
The excitement that surrounds graduation starts boiling on move-in day. I remember sitting in the field house at the University of Minnesota, Morris, just hours after I had set up my room. The chancellor greeted the class of 2020 and told us they were already preparing for our graduation, for our futures. That excitement grows as you reach each milestone.
You attend your first class, and your college career is underway. Your first year is over, and you’re a quarter of the way done. You move off campus, you join more clubs, you take leadership roles, you establish your social circles, you spend hours upon hours at the library, you start to become an actual scholar in your field of study. Finally, you’re ready for your future. You just have to graduate.
I expected to be outside on the university mall. My fingers were crossed that we would not have commencement indoors due to bad weather. I never thought I’d have to cross my fingers that I would have a graduation at all. And, of course, I’m not alone. My little brother is a senior in high school. Just a few weeks ago he dressed up for prom and played games on Zoom with his friends. His graduation day will come and go quietly. Seniors this year are graduating from Zoom University, and while it makes for some funny jokes and good stories in the future, right now, it sucks.
But we don’t attend school just to graduate. I still had some of the best experiences of my life at school, like my first day and my first class. I remember exploring the city and wandering campus late at night. We built trenches in the snow after a blizzard and had a giant snowball fight. My residence hall won the freshman tug of war. We played hide and seek in the Fine Arts building. I loved the too-competitive game nights, and talking too much during movie nights because my friends were greater than any movie I could watch. I remember playing Dungeons & Dragons for eight hours every Friday night (and shaking my head in regret the next day). College was great, and my graduation won’t change that.
Seniors are making the most of the situation, and a lot of schools are, too. My friend drove back to campus to take “graduation photos,” the University of Minnesota is holding a virtual commencement for students and their families, and they’re also sending tassels and diplomas to students’ houses. St. Paul Public Schools will hold virtual graduation ceremonies to celebrate this year’s grads—they are even sending the students caps, gowns, tassels, and a Class of 2020 yard sign. Those yard signs are popping up everywhere. Local graphics shops such as CLP Graphics and RPM Graphics are helping families feel celebratory in spite of it all. (Various Etsy shops and Amazon have customizable options, as well.)
So, to the class of 2020, don’t give up. Graduation is important, but what is more important are the great things we hope to achieve. The great things we will achieve. The future is scary, but it always will be. Make the most of it here and now. Dress up for graduation, order in a fancy meal, get a cake, and recognize yourself. This day was yours four years ago, and it is yours now. Make it yours. You deserve it.