This Summer, final year students around the country finished University (despite multiple strike periods and a global pandemic). On Thursday 30th July, 2020, I graduated from the University of Birmingham (go me!). But instead of walking across the stage of the Great Hall (with a degree in one hand and waving to my teary-eyed parents with the other) before sitting back down with my wonderful classmates and closest friends…I was sat on the sofa with my dogs, in my Brother’s old mortarboard, watching a Zoom webinar.
Of course, I knew this day was coming. It was one of the first (and most consistent) things I cried about over the early days of the pandemic. I hadn’t really thought about it until my housemate brought it up, offhand, that we were not going to have a graduation. The class of (Covid) ’19 were to have no cap and gown, no awkward butchering of mispronounced names, no ceremony. By no means is missing out on a University ceremony even remotely comparable to some of the tragedies that people have gone through due to Coronavirus, but it’s okay to feel a little sad about it (You can even wallow a little. I won’t tell anyone.).
To their credit, UoB did their best – a weeklong celebration of YouTube videos and live speeches, with an invitation back to campus next Spring to boot – but there are some things about the mythic ‘Graduation’ that just can’t be replaced:
Say ‘Global Pandemic’!
One of the things that I was most upset about was the photo. Now, before you accuse me of being shallow and self-obsessed (you’d be a little right), hear me out. Of course, it doesn’t mean as much as your degree certificate…except, it kind of does. To me, anyway. Your graduation picture is a badge of honour to show your family and friends that says ‘Look at me! I got a degree! And you can’t even tell that I thought about dropping out seventy times!’. Graduation pictures get pulled out after drunken dinner parties to show how young your parents once were, or are given to Grandparents so they can brag to their friends at bridge. How are my relatives supposed to know what I look like if I can’t send them a relatively-unflattering picture of me holding a fake scroll? Plus, in ten years’ time if you’re whipping out your degree certificate after three glasses of Barefoot’s White Zinfandel, you’re going to look like a dick. In all seriousness, I don’t really know why I’m so sad about not having one. It’s super symbolic and I just am.
B.F.F.U. (Best Friends For University)
Look. No disrespect to the dogs, but they were not my first choice for my graduation cohort. Ideally, I would have been sitting with the people that I had laughed, partied, and fell asleep in lectures with for the last three years (Dad, if you’re reading this, I promise we did some work too). Final year University students have missed out on a lot these last few months: concerts, games, parties, friends, the list goes on. Unexpectedly coming home in the middle of March means that there may be some people that we just never got to say goodbye to. Not necessarily close friends, but a girl that was coincidentally in all your seminars in second year, or a lecturer that somehow made Late-Baroque analysis seem interesting (we were duped for sure) and that does make me a little sad. Graduation is supposed to be a time to celebrate your (and your friends’) achievements, and instead we have had to do it alone.
Okay, now this one I was kind of for. Instead of having to get an Uber back from a bar in Central Birmingham at 1 AM, drunk, I simply logged off Zoom after two glasses of Champagne (it was my graduation, okay?) and went to bed. No hangover? No problem.
Pros and Cons
Okay, let’s get to the pros and cons of a virtual graduation:
You can wear whatever you want (no more cute-but-super-uncomfortable heels that you can’t actually walk in)
On-campus graduations will double as a reunion? (I’m still holding out hope that they’ll happen)
You can re-take your pictures as many times as you like (It was a lot. Sorry Mom…)
You can make fun of the boring speeches without having to whisper
It’s really tragic to sit in your living room to graduate (sorry, but it’s true)
You don’t get to show off your P.E. with Joe gains
You don’t get to drink away the pain of being officially unemployed with your friends
You can’t make fun of the boring speeches with your friends
While this was not the end-of-degree celebration we expected or deserved, the Class of 2020 (and 2021, and 2022, etc.) will go down in history, and it’s certainly going to be something to remember, for better or for worse. No matter how much it sucks losing out on it, walking across a stage in a gown is not a symbol of how well you’ve done, how hard you’ve worked, or how much you’ve grown. You can show that all by yourself. We’ve done amazingly! Now it’s time to go change the world…(or sit on the sofa watching Vampire Diaries until someone will hire us)
Congratulations, final years!