What It's Like to Graduate During a Pandemic

Heather Barr
A closed building on the Capital University campus

This Saturday was supposed to be my graduation ceremony at Capital University, but it’s now unclear whether I’ll ever walk the stage. Instead of accepting my diploma with a handshake from a university official in front of my family and classmates, it’ll come in the mail like one of my many unnecessary online purchases from the last few weeks. Truth be told, I haven’t even bought a cap and gown. When my school announced on March 16 it was postponing commencement and shifting to online learning for the rest of the semester, ceremonial attire just kind of slipped my mind.

It’s surreal to graduate this way. I feel like I’m in a weird limbo, neither a student nor a real-life adult. It’s hard to imagine that I won’t be back on campus in the fall, but I also am ready to take my next steps. Those feelings are normal, of course, at this point in a college career, but the current circumstances seem to amplify the moment. 

To be honest, I don’t think it’s quite hit me yet that in just a week this will all be over. I think that’s mostly because I didn’t get to participate in all the senior traditions—the gate ceremony, the spaghetti dinner and the honors convocation among them—that make the transition to adult life easier. I didn’t get to say a proper goodbye to campus, which has been my home for the last four years, and to my friends and classmates who have become family. It feels like a breakup without the necessary closure. 

I’m sure many of my fellow seniors are feeling the same way, because Capital is just one of many colleges across the state and nation who made the decision to postpone or cancel graduation ceremonies, with Ohio State University and Miami University among them. Many of these schools, Capital included, have promised seniors that they will celebrate in some way, even if a normal commencement ceremony isn’t possible. That at least gives me hope.

Although it may seem silly to be upset about graduation in the grand scheme of things, this ceremony is so important for first generation students like myself and many of my friends, because our families were looking forward to the celebration, too. “I don’t care if I don’t walk until September, I just want to,” says Sydney Deibert, a close friend of mine and the first person in her family to get a degree. “My grandma looked like she was about to cry when I told her it was postponed.” 

We know we’ll still get our diploma, and we know this postponement isn’t the most important thing going on in the world, but we still feel the loss of the traditions we’ve looked forward to for the last four years.

Many of my classmates are finishing their degrees while working essential jobs at grocery stores, restaurants and in the health care field. Some of them are working so many hours each week that it’s impossible for them to find time to keep up with their classwork. With the pandemic cratering the economy, others, like myself, are struggling to find a job after graduation where they’ll use their degrees.

I’ve been trying over the last few weeks to keep this all in perspective. Some days it’s still hard to convince myself that things aren’t that bad, but I’ve made it a point to find something good in each day. Despite the difficult circumstances, at least I can still finish my degree from home. At least I have a roof over my head and food in my fridge. As a way to keep positive, I call at least one friend or family member a day to check in, and I’ve been keeping a journal to keep a record my thoughts and feelings during this time. 

It’s scary to look at my future and not know what’s coming next, and it feels like every day things are changing. But I, like most college seniors, am hanging in there. Wish us luck.

Heather Barr is a former Columbus Monthly intern.


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