Graduating seniors won’t need a cap and gown this year, just an internet connection.
“I was on spring break when they announced that all classes and graduation were going to be suspended, and for like an hour I was just completely pissed off,” said Meaghan Cahill, a senior at Providence College in Rhode Island.
Like the rest of the Class of 2020, Cahill was more than looking forward to graduating in the spring. The English major who minored in political science is the first to graduate in her family among her brother and cousins.
But then the coronavirus pandemic hit.
“I faced a lot of obstacles to get to where I was, and to me, graduation was like the pinnacle celebration of all of that,” Cahill said.
The coronavirus pandemic has sent students from universities packing across the country. Colleges postponed their commencement ceremonies in May, and just like classes, planned on transitioning graduation to online. Many seniors are struggling with the circumstances, when graduation is one of many significant milestones in their lifetime.
Renata Bilello, a senior at Jacksonville University in Florida, is tackling a double major, studying secondary education and history. While planning to celebrate with her friends and family on graduation day, her school quickly postponed the commencement after classes transitioned online.
“Graduation meant the celebration of something that I’ve worked very hard toward,” she said.
“I feel better now knowing that my school is planning on postponing my graduation, but I feel as though it won’t be the same given that most people will be a year plus into their lives post-graduation,” Bilello said.
As the pandemic has expanded its reach, most colleges have postponed their ceremonies. Emerson College in Boston sent an email to its students a couple of weeks after classes transitioned online.
“This [includes] plans for a virtual ceremony that will take place as close to our original Commencement date as possible,” wrote Emerson President Lee Pelton. “We will share more information on the virtual event, as well as the conferral of diplomas to graduating students, as soon as it is available.”“In addition, we are also considering a fall date for an in-person event, once we know it is safe to ask students, friends and family to gather,” he stated. The Class of 2020 started a petition for the school to plan a fall 2020 graduation date, but were met with criticism from alumni.
“Let us do some good in this world and donate the costs of the 2020 graduation ceremony, as well as all related events, to the COVID-19 relief,” posted an Emerson alumni on Facebook. “If the college chooses to do this, I will personally donate $1,000 of my own money, as well.”
“I think people are going to judge our class for being upset about this. Yes, it’s a worldwide crisis, so they're bigger things to worry about. But the amount of time and money we put into school over 18 years is supposed to be celebrated,” said Elizabeth Nicole, a senior at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts, who studies information design and corporate communication.
“We’re already getting all the other senior events and memories taken away, so the least they can do is let us have a graduation at some point,” she said.
“We have spent 90% of our lives working towards getting a college degree,” said Cahill.
“I think it’s completely understandable that students are upset because the one thing that has been drilled in our heads since we were kids has been taken away from us,” she said.
Not only was graduation taken away from the class of 2020, but the chance to say goodbye to the friends they made from the past four years was made to be impossible when colleges quickly closed.
“I have a lot of international friends that are athletes, and I never properly got to say goodbye, and unless I decide to plan some kind of trip to Canada, I won’t really ever get to see them again,” said Cahill.
Luckily for Cahill, she’ll celebrate her graduation in the fall because her school, Providence College, is planning to hold a celebration on Halloween. Many of her classmates already are making plans and booking hotels for the weekend.
But like Bilello and Nicole, Cahill agrees it won’t be the same, although nothing can be done surrounding the circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic.
“For kids who are first generation college grads, that’s a huge accomplishment so they and their families are being cheated out of something they may never have thought was a possibility in the first place,” Cahill said.
Isabella Pelletiere is a graduating senior at Emerson College in Boston.