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Happy Fauxmencement to the Class of COVID-19

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Last week I took a break from my quarantine schedule of watching five straight hours of Bon Appétit videos to graduate from college. I wasn’t wearing a cap and gown or the custom Ghanaian dress my mom had made for me to wear while I walked across the stage. There wasn’t even a stage, just my laptop and a Zoom call. A friend had texted me a couple hours before the start of our virtual graduation to ask if I was planning to dress up for the event, and I was debating even turning my camera on. This wasn’t the graduation I’d planned for and I wasn’t going to pretend it was.

My first virtual ceremony was for the journalism department and it was the one I’d been looking forward to the most. It’s easy at a university with over 13,000 undergraduates to get lost in the crowd, but I’d always felt supported by both the faculty and students at my J-school, and I knew my goodbyes there would mean the most. But when campus closed, that ceremony was one of the first to be cancelled. Instead, we got on a hundred person Zoom to celebrate the end of our college careers and say our goodbyes. Faculty and alum said some words, students were acknowledged, and a slideshow of photos was played. It was over in a half hour.

A couple days later was the ceremony for the College of Arts, Media, and Design, my “home college” within the university. This was live-streamed (and thank God for it — imagine telling more than 600 people to mute themselves) and included an address from the dean and a virtual a cappella rendition of Lean on Me.

The only proof I graduated college.

When all this started, my university promised an “interactive, virtual ceremony” in lieu of our usual TD Garden commencement. We were also smaller in person events in various cities including Boston, New York, and Seattle at some undetermined time in the future. But by the end of March we stopped getting any updates on commencement at all and by mid-April, we were told only to expect college specific celebrations. I can’t say I was too surprised.

Now, I know I sound bitter about all this, but I really don’t begrudge any of the faculty and staff who put together these ceremonies. Many of them have been mentors to me throughout my time at Northeastern, and when they say they feel for the Class of 2020, I believe them. I’m grateful for the work and consideration that went into giving us anything at all.

I’m not typically a person for pomp and circumstance so the act of walking across the stage has never felt like the be-all end-all of my college experience, but as a first-gen student it’s hard to separate commencement from the personal accomplishment it represents.

The Class of 2020 has faced its fair share of disappointments in the last three months, but we’re still clinging onto the hope of graduation tightly. That desire to see our accomplishments recognized has led to several variations of the fauxmencement, both in person and virtual.

Within a day of seniors at Olin College of Engineering getting the email that classes would be cut short, they were planning a makeshift graduation ceremony with garbage bag gowns and origami caps.

“Less than 48 hours ago, a single email flipped our whole, tiny world upside down,” one of the students who spoke at the ceremony said. “But less than 48 hours later, the community came together to put on multiple final concerts, other events and now “fauxmencement.”

At Wellesley College, there was a fauxmencement put together for and by students. There were no deans to call out the graduates names, but there were hand-picked flowers in place of diplomas.

“It’s an emotional thing for everyone on campus. We have a lot of first-generation students, where graduation carries particular importance,” Ninotska Love, a student who helped plan the ceremony told the New York Times.

Then, of course, has been the ongoing call for the Obamas to give an international class of 2020 address. Last week, the call was answered in the form of the Reach Higher virtual commencement. On June 6, Barack and Michelle Obama will headline an event for graduating seniors that features an inexplicable list of speakers. Former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, Korean boy band BTS, beauty YouTuber Jackie Aina, and whatever Dude Perfect is? No stone was left unturned.

But my favorite attempt at salvaging this mess of a senior year is by far Quaranteen Commencement 2020, a virtual graduation happening entirely on Minecraft. The idea came from Boston University seniors Rudy Raveendran and Warren Partridge, who created a server just so students from hundreds of different universities could walk across a stage and receive their diploma. More than a thousand grads from over 300 schools are set to participate.

If there’s one thing Gen Z can do, it’s turn a once in a lifetime event into a meme.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that I probably won’t get the chance to graduate the way I imagined, but I also know that doesn’t erase the work it took to get here. If these fauxmencements give any lesson, it’s that there’s no one way to commemorate our achievements, and I do plan on celebrating to my satisfaction — hopefully sometime soon.

Thanks for reading,

Zipporah

If you are, or know of, a first generation college student who’d like to be featured in future editions of this newsletter, email me at zipporah@firstgennews.com. Follow me on Twitter @zipporahosei.

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