What Should Have Been: On Graduating During Coronavirus
It was the final session of my playwriting class with Professor Blatner and — as I had the previous few weeks — I sat by my desk in my childhood bedroom and stared at the grid of rectangular video feeds that now constitute a classroom. There’s a certain intimacy to sharing your creative work that had, over the semester, turned this disparate group of classmates into friends. Now, as the minutes of our final class ticked away, I had to say goodbye.
Goodbyes are not the same over Zoom. Like all my classes this semester, when my playwriting class came to a close, there were no “bro hugs,” there was no “see you around” — only internet lag, squinting at pixelated figures and the abrupt jolt back into solitude that accompanies the “leave meeting” button. Over the Zoom chat, a friend messaged me, “I think I’m going to cry.”
For many, the coronavirus pandemic and the accompanying cancellation of in-person classes are a strange intermission to their college experience. They await the return to campus, the return to normalcy. For me and the rest of the class of 2020, though, it is not a disruption but an unceremonious termination. Our entire college experience, three or four of the most formative years of our lives, have come to an end over videoconference. Goodbyes are never easy, but they shouldn’t be this hard.
The coronavirus pandemic has ravaged the world. It has uprooted the economy and taken the lives of countless innocent victims. It is easy to try to minimize our disappointment by putting our own situations into a wider perspective. After all, how bad is a Zoom graduation when people are dying all around us? But as attractive as that outlook may be, it isn’t fair to our own experience. We deserve to acknowledge that, quite frankly, graduating from college in the midst of a global pandemic sucks.
I’m over 1,500 miles away from most of the friends I made during my three years at YU, and I have no idea when I’ll see them again. I have a vacant Heights apartment full of clothing, books, and furniture, and I don’t know how I’ll retrieve my belongings before my lease is up. I’m graduating with no real plans for the future, into an economy that’s ground to a halt, where job prospects seem slimmer than ever. Instead of throwing my cap into the air at Madison Square Garden, I’ll get to watch a video clip of me awkwardly staring into the camera and tossing my cap into my parents’ ceiling, in front of the only white wall I could find. These are the particulars of my situation, but the experience is a shared one. The class of 2020 is not getting the send-off it deserves.
My mother works as a therapist, and she tells me that a lot of her clients are feeling a similar sense of loss right now. “There’s a lot of grief,” she says, “from canceled graduations to weddings, people are mourning the loss of what was supposed to be.” So I’ll fight the impulse to end this piece on a happy note, because this isn’t a happy time for anyone. The class of 2020 has worked incredibly hard to finish our undergraduate education, devoting years of our lives to our studies. We deserve to be able to acknowledge our losses without feeling selfish or tone-deaf, and recognize that we don’t have to be okay with the way our senior year has turned out. Right now, we deserve to be able to mourn.
Photo Caption: The class of 2020 has worked incredibly hard to finish our undergraduate education, devoting years of our lives to our studies.
Photo Credit: Pixabay