It’s been a year since I would’ve walked the stage at my college graduation ceremony. A lot has happened in that year including starting new jobs, moving, surviving a pandemic, etc. So much so that for a while I stopped thinking too much about that would-be commencement.
For myself and my peers in the class of 2020 college may have ended unceremoniously, but it did end, I really did think that I had accepted that. It took some time but eventually, I was able to tell myself that I was over not getting a proper graduation ceremony. That is until graduation season picked up again and I realized while scrolling through the steady stream of graduation photos and celebratory posts on social media that I was definitely not over it.
I’ve been talking about this with other members of my class in what feels like hushed tones. We’ve all suddenly been hit with a sense of sadness over our lost commencement we tell each other, but it feels selfish to voice it.
My frustration over my own commencement doesn’t take away from the excitement I feel for my friends and peers in the class of 2021. Graduating when I did came with its own struggles but at the end of the day, they’re graduating into the same uncertain economy that I did, and they have to do it after a year of remote learning. No one in higher education is coming out of this unscathed.
Still, there is something undeniably hard about watching them pose with their families in their caps and gowns and knowing I may never get the same.
I’ve seen the sentiment pop up from grads across the country. A recent Wall Street Journal analysis of 50 schools found that after promising in-person celebrations last year, 56% are still planning to reschedule. Some colleges planned joint ceremonies for the class of 2020 and 2021 this graduation season or set aside time in the last month to offer in-person celebrations to those who could attend. Unfortunately, many weren’t so lucky.
“I just wanted to know what is going on here,” one graduate of Barnard College told the Wall Street Journal. “Do you guys still care about us?”
Last I spoke with you all about this was in May of 2020. At the time, my alma mater, Northeastern University, had recently gone ghost about an in-person commencement after weeks of promising a ceremony in different forms. Now the university says it will finally celebrate my class (allegedly) in November 2021. I haven’t yet decided if I’ll be there. Eighteen months feels like a long time to wait to celebrate.
What I have decided is that I’m ready to let go of this attachment to my lost commencement. As a first-gen student, I know why the hold it had on me was so strong. Six years after first entering postsecondary education, 56% of first-generation college students haven’t completed their degree, according to the Center for First-Generation Student Success. I completed my degree in four years but like many first-gen students that diploma was much more than four years in the making. I spent a lot of time thinking that commencement would be the proof of that achievement, but not having that hasn’t taken away from accomplishments.
My success doesn’t need to be so closely tied to a university-sanctioned event. I got the diploma, I got the job, and most importantly I got the satisfaction of knowing that I got myself through my college career. Reminding myself that there will be other milestones and rites of passage to celebrate has helped me get through this graduation season. I hope it’ll be enough to get me through the many more to come.
📚 Recommended read:
I owe a lot of this newfound enlightenment about my graduation and post-grad life to “An Ordinary Age: Finding Your Way in a World That Expects Exceptional,” a new book by Rainsford Stauffer. This book has some of the most empathetic writing I’ve read on navigating young adulthood and I can’t recommend it enough.
As I find my way through this post-grad life I’ve been coming back to the book’s message to set aside the “incessant pursuit of a best life” and instead focus on the “ordinary moments in between.” It’s not a book meant specifically for first-gen students but so many of its lessons apply to the experience. I hope you’ll give it a read!
Thank you for reading! You can follow me on Twitter @zipporahosei and reach me for questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.