On Commencement and Closure -- Or the Lack Thereof

By: Elka Wiesenberg  |  April 27, 2020

By Elka Wiesenberg, Opinion Editor

A friend of mine told me that her parents used to say that college graduation is the real graduation. Elementary school, high school — you have to do those, at least partly. You don’t make the choice to have basic education. A college degree, though, is something you choose to accomplish. You choose (well, plenty of parents coerce their children into it these days, but technically you are an adult and have the freedom to refuse and make your own decisions) to further your education, to work hard, to keep learning. That is something to be proud of.

I’d been debating what to put on my graduation cap before I even started college. My elementary school and high school rented the caps (gross, I know), so I never got to decorate one. I envisioned myself in cap and gown with all my college friends, laughing, crying, and  commemorating the last three or four years of our lives. I was excited for the pictures, my family flying in, everyone joining together to celebrate the blood, sweat, and tears I poured into surviving, and even thriving, in college.

Thanks, COVID-19.

Some people have blamed the school for cancelling graduation. That’s ridiculous. I don’t know of any schools that are still planning to continue with commencement plans. It’s unsafe, and as much as I want it, it’s not a necessary gathering — just a swarm of germs and spike of cases in our community waiting to happen.

So what next? What are our other options? A Zoom graduation feels sad. I don’t want to sit alone in a cap and gown, staring at a screen that continuously freezes because of my poor WiFi, watching technical malfunctions and speeches about how isn’t it too bad we can’t do this in person, wow class of 2020, you’re so resilient. Are we resilient? We didn’t have a choice but to keep going, to conclude our final semester with online classes and isolation.

The other alternative? A commencement ceremony at some point next year. That feels silly. I don’t want to be a working adult or grad student reverting to my college years, putting on a cap and gown to celebrate a past achievement. It would feel like getting a certificate for a high school accomplishment now. 

I’m not suggesting an alternative, unfortunately I don’t have one. I think I’ve come to terms with the fact that I will not be having a ceremony to celebrate my college years that will at all fulfill the want for recognition of these years.

Honestly, not having graduation isn’t even the worst part of being in the class of 2020. My underclassman friends and my younger brother are all — understandably — upset that their semester has been disrupted, that they are missing out on a couple months with friends, that they won’t be back in college until the fall. For me, though, for my classmates, this is it. We will never sit in a Wilf or Beren classroom again. We will never spend a night in the Gottesman Library until 2 a.m., running into our friends, being part of the college experience. We will never attend another Heights party (well, most of us will move on from those) or a club event. 

What really makes me sad is Shabbat. I love Shabbat on campus, whether in Koch with the Bernsteins and the Rosenzweigs, or hosting in my little dorm apartment after spending Friday at Trader Joe’s and in the kitchen. I miss Kabbalat Shabbat at Stern every Friday night. Knowing that I will never spend another “Shabbat at Beren” with my friends, my college family, is the hardest part of this entire pandemic for me.

Throughout all this, it’s hard to remember the good, but it’s also necessary. I have a roof over my head, a family to be with me in these hard times, and friends to call when everything is overwhelming. We all have what to be grateful for, no matter what it is. I may not have a commencement ceremony or a proper last semester of college, but I have so much more.

During this time, it is so important to be there for everyone in your life. We’re all missing something, probably a lot of things. In my case, and for a lot of graduating seniors, it is graduation and saying goodbye to college, all our last experiences we were robbed of. Call your friends. Reach out to acquaintances. Try to connect and create memories virtually. There’s not much we can do about our situation except make the best of it. So, fellow seniors, make the best of it.