Not all Graduations are Equal: A College Senior Makes a Plea

In 2020, Covid-19 affected all. Everyone’s life had to change, including college students whose classes and campus life abruptly shifted online.

The arrival of this novel coronavirus in March 2020 hit some harder than others: parents, those in the working-class who still had to go to work, lower and middle-class citizens without the means to escape the city, students who no longer could attend school, college students trying to get the education and training they needed, and the elderly. A lot of people lost their lives (more than 17,500 in Massachusetts alone) and many more lost income or other resources.

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The pandemic hit home for far too many people, and have cost the lives of too many. We, at styleboston, stand in solidarity for those who were affected in any way from this horrible virus and the devastation it wrought.

So, I ask that you read this piece knowing that I know that anyone graduating as part of the Class of 2021 has a lot (many, many things) to be thankful for and this is not meant to be a screed. But I ask you to consider that the Class of 2020, for both high school and college seniors, had all activities taken away from them starting spring semester of 2020. Still, they were able to have a normal Fall semester, without masks, the worry of a virus, nor the worry of sports being taken away from them, until the Spring of 2020.

The Class of 2021 was left with little to no hope, no normalcy, for either semesters. From the Spring and Fall of 2020 to the beginning of Spring of 2021, there has been a rare occurrence of in-class lectures, little campus visits, strict rules and guidelines to accommodate for this virus, and many more unfortunate events that we, the Class of 2021, did not sign up or pay tuition for.

The swine flu did not stop graduation ceremonies for Northeastern University on Friday, May 1, 2009. Shown are Health Sciences graduate Sharon Casey of Wilton, Conn., right, who laughs with Stephanie Calefati, left, of Union, N.J. as she passes a bottle of hand sanitizer to other graduates. Cases of the swine flu were increasing just as college graduation season began, but schools did what they could to keep the large crowds of people traveling from around the country and beyond from spreading or catching the disease. (AP file photo/Elise Amendola)

Everything was understandable until it came time for colleges and universities to announcement their graduation plans. This year’s graduates are left with: possibly no senior week, no senior in-person recognition, no commencement, a commencement on Zoom, a commencement with no guests, a commencement with one guest, or a commencement in a parking lot. That’s the way it is for me, at least, all while all of the other schools in Boston will hold commencement ceremonies at Fenway Park, Gillette Stadium, the region’s Convention Centers, and other venues.

At the very least, colleges, especially, considering their astronomical fees and tuition, should absolutely be able to honor this year’s graduating class, with at least two guests, at an outdoor venue, large enough for social distancing. With restrictions being lifted within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, there are no excuses as to why there shouldn’t be some type of in-person ceremony to be held with our loved ones.

We have the resources, and the knowledge, to be able to hold a Covid-safe space for those who wish to attend, to see their children, brothers, sisters, parents, walk across the stage, to get their degree, that we have worked so hard for. It might be a good time to remind all colleges that this year’s graduates will be next year’s potential donors that you will be soliciting.

Boston College’s graduation on June 2, 1969, might seem like an odd gathering after a year of Covid-19 precautions, but health officials predict that we could see events like this in 2022. Photo part of the Boston Public Library’s Brearley Collection and used through Creative Commons.

I am a first-generation college student, graduating from Emmanuel College in Boston, MA. I am a part of the Class of 2021, and was notified that there will be a commencement, in the school parking lot, but with no guests or family members. It was a shock, but not a surprise. It was a shock considering all the other surrounding schools are able to have their graduation at Fenway Park or TD Garden. It wasn’t a surprise however, any chance schools get to save any sort of money for themselves, they will, no questions asked.

The senior class has stressed on multiple occasions that we would rather have the money go towards a nicely put together graduation ceremony instead of a senior week. A graduation ceremony in a small parking lot, with no guests, is an absolute slap in the face to us graduates at Emmanuel College, while Northeastern, and other area colleges are able to have their ceremony at Fenway Park. Considering the work, the anxiety that this pandemic has put us through this past year, the Class of 2021 deserves to be honored at a nice venue that allows for social distancing and is large enough for family members to attend.

We’ll likely never return to graduation ceremonies like the 1970 Boston University Commencement. Used through Creative Commons.

Being a first-generation college student, I want to be able to have my loved ones who weren’t able to go to college and put their money towards me instead, see me walk across the stage, and get the degree that I earned over the full four years of school, not just the last 15 months of this Covid-19 pandemic.   

And, yes, I acknowledge that colleges, including my own, have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep schools operating under tight restrictions that undoubtedly keep many people healthy. But this is the time for school administrators to ask for help from the neighbors and Boston leaders who might be able to honor these students and acknowledge all of their hard work to be able to stay afloat during this pandemic.

There are various resources to be able to get the funds to be able to hold graduation at a considerable place, to appeal to everyone, yes, we’re still talking to you, Emmanuel College, and other colleges, to be able to appeal to their future alumni. As I noted above, we all know, they’ll be asking for donations from us, even when they aren’t valuing us right now.

Speaking to other graduation college seniors who also attend college in Massachusetts, it is clear that we are all frustrated with all of our schools in one way or another.

Raymond Le of Emmanuel College’s graduating class of 2021, said: “I just think it’s crazy how after a year of pandemic we are not only graduating in a parking lot but without our family members (many of whom paid for our education). So many other schools like Suffolk, Wentworth, Simmons, and Bentley get to celebrate with their loved ones at FENWAY PARK! How many times have we let the city use our campus to have police park there for events or have movie sets come and take over the parking lot? How many graduates do we send out into the city of Boston each year? And the only place they could find us was a parking lot on campus?”

The frustration is not only the fact that we are the only school in Boston that is having a graduation in a small parking lot, but the fact that students feel as though they are not valued enough. We are watching other students in the surrounding Fenway areas have these exquisite graduations at huge stadiums, while we get a parking lot, or Zoom.

Maggie Duich of Northeastern’s Class of 2021 said: “Northeastern is at Fenway Park and students only get one ticket so you can imagine the wars that’s starting for divorced parents.” Duich said that she’s “grateful to be having something in person when others can’t but I just think this is a little unfair to make students choose” between parents and loved ones.

Regardless of the school, there is absolutely no excuse to not hold an in-person graduation, with family members. With more and more vaccinations being distributed daily, there should be more push to appeal to 2021’s graduating class and the Class of 2020.

Sincerely,

A College Senior Who Survived 2021

Holy Cross graduation in 1964. Creative Commons

(Cover art by MIKEADV. All rights reserved. Copyright 2021.)

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