2020 Commencement: Not With A Bang But With A Whimper

By: Matthew Silkin  |  June 16, 2020

By Matthew Silkin, Staff Writer

In a way, the 2020 Commencement mirrored my college experience: hyped up by everyone around me, suddenly moved to an online venue, and then finished way too quickly. 

The entire affair lasted just short of an hour. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks gave a short speech and Lin Manuel Miranda made a guest appearance. Instead of each graduate being called up to a stage to receive a symbolic diploma, the deans simply stated the number of students qualified to have the title of Associate/Bachelor conferred upon them which was then affirmed by President Rabbi Dr. Berman. The tassel moving and cap throwing was relegated to premade videos.

There was also a post-Commencement “Zoom party” for all the graduates. There was trivia, both general and YU-specific. Apparently there were prizes for the winners of trivia, but what they are I am not aware. Everyone besides the host was on mute. It, too, was short-lived, going on for just shy of an hour and a half.

Compared to the pomp and circumstance (pun intended) of an in-person exercise, I suppose it was rather nice for the event to be over and done with as short as possible. I personally tend to prefer things to be short and to the point rather than overdone and elongated. Had we had a ceremony with all the bells and whistles, it most likely would have taken all afternoon; today, I sat down with my family at 1 p.m., watched Commencement, and then at 1:50 p.m., we all got up to return to our errands.

However, there’s a camaraderie of an in person exercise, a sort of pervasive atmosphere amongst the graduates that was kind of just … lost in the digital Commencement. I think vividly of 2019’s Commencement exercises, of the hugs and handshakes that I shared with my friends who had graduated, of sitting in the auditorium at Madison Square Garden and watching the caps and gowns shuffle by to their designated area, of the WhatsApp group that someone started to make live commentary and jokes of the events of the day. Someone tried starting that this year as well, and it kinda just … fell flat. Flatter than it did last year, anyhow.

I guess “flat” is the best way to describe today. The entire ceremony was two dimensional, consisting of everything happening on a 13 inch screen in my living room. I got into my cap and gown five minutes beforehand and simply watched the pre-recorded proceedings instead of being in a crowd with friends, joking around and cheering when hearing our names called by the Provost to be awarded our degrees.

I think the most indicative moment of 2020 Commencement was the memoriam for those who passed away during the pandemic. From what I saw, it was a fairly standard video which played while viewers bombarded the screen with heart and sobbing emojis in the ‘reaction’ function. Half the time, the last name of the deceased was covered up by the river of emojis. Sometimes, a laughing emoji snaked its way up, though I feel it was more due to a misclick from a less technologically literate user than a malicious mockery of the person being memorialized. Nevertheless, the entire sequence is seared into my mind as the lynchpin of 2020’s graduation ceremony and of the end of college in general.

T.S. Eliot ended his poem “The Hollow Men” with the timeless and cryptic, “This is the way the world ends / This is the way the world ends / This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but with a whimper.”

2019 Commencement had confetti cannons (the first YU Commencement to have them, according to the Kahoot game in the post-Commencement party). 2020 had sobbing emojis taking up a third of an in-memoriam video.

Not with a bang but with a whimper, indeed.