In May/June 2020, the entire class of 2020 nationwide, and worldwide, graduated to little fanfare. The COVID-19 pandemic forced all graduation ceremonies to be held remotely, with students and their families watching an online video presentation. It was necessary, but also quite possibly the most lackluster commencement in recent history.
I graduated this May. I won’t lie, I had decided long ago that I would not walk at graduation, I wouldn’t even attend. I didn’t want the attention on me, I didn’t want my family to have to fight over limited tickets, I personally didn’t want or need the pomp to validate my achievement. Given, I had put off my college education since 2012, so finishing my degree at a few months shy of 30 was indeed a feat. But, getting the degree is the reward, the ceremony is for the family (and the ego).
I did exactly what I was supposed to do in school, better than I ever had in the past. My first attempt at college after high school was uninspired. It was just more school to me, and I wasn’t yet mature enough to understand the gravity of getting an education. I was too concerned with friends and drugs. But, when I got back to college as a grown man, closer to 30 than 20, my priorities couldn’t be clearer. I had to ace everything, pay close attention, sit up front, and strictly budget my time. I did all those things and graduated with highest honors. My family was proud, but I didn’t feel much.
Before ceremonies were moved online, I had already decided not to walk at graduation – I was never going to attend the ceremony, but I suppose there would’ve been some celebration. There wasn’t. My family was proud and expressed their congrulations, but we couldn’t be together. And so, on the day the ceremony was streamed, I didn’t even know it happened. I looked at the link a day or two later, and if I’m honest, I never watched it. I never watched my graduation ceremony after my college education was deferred nearly a decade.
I know I’m not only speaking for myself when I say that it doesn’t feel like I graduated. It feels like nothing happened at all, my college career slithered to a quiet close. I had graduated in the dark, and no one, not even I, could see it happen. My classmates and I went from actively working on our degrees to sitting around at home all day, with no transition whatsoever. We know we graduated technically, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that we skipped being graduates and went right to being slackers.
But, though we graduated in the dark, it came to me later that this unusual graduation or lack thereof was actually something beneficial. While we were left wanting, we were actually given a great gift. We weren’t allowed to be taken up by the praise and adulation, impressed by ourselves or the pomp. We had to humbly accept our accomplishments and begin the next phase of our lives. And while I know some people held extravagant graduation parties in secret, flouting the COVID restrictions, most of us quietly graduated and moved on within days if not minutes, in my case.
Our accomplishments are real, and cannot be diminished. They may not feel real, but they are. And though we graduated in total darkness, in silence, we did what we set out to do and we moved into the future surefooted and humbled.