I didn’t get a graduation.
I was the first person in my family to finish post secondary. I paid for my education completely by myself, collecting multiple scholarships, grants, and at one point, even working three part time jobs while being a full time student. I passed my degree with a first class status that I worked incredibly hard for. And I didn’t get a graduation.
This isn’t a unique story over the past year. Thousands of people lost their senior years of high school and university. Teenagers lost their proms, and seniors lost their last campus parties. I suppose I am lucky to have had even a part of my fourth year be on campus, even if the end of it unexpected got ripped out from under me. And I mean this sincerely, Class of 2021, I am so, so sorry. Class of 2020 had it bad, but so do you. As a Class of 2021 too, I know this for a fact.
I am not naive. There are far bigger issues facing the world in 2021 than university students being forced into doing school on Zoom. I have stayed healthy, and have had my education remain on track despite the pandemic. I have not lost any loved ones, and despite being laid off briefly last year, I have been able to stay employed. I am lucky. I know that I am lucky. Still, this last year has presented more challenges to me academically than I could have ever expected.
When I accepted my offer to my masters program, Coronavirus (as it was still called) was an epidemic that was still isolated across the Atlantic. It was starting to get scary, but in my Western privilege I planned my life as usual. And then March happened.
I submitted my last undergraduate assignment on April 15th, 2020. I was alone in my parents’ kitchen. I clicked a submit button on a website, and just like that, four years of my life ended. I cried. I cried a few times that day. I cried because I was proud. I cried because I was lonely. I cried because I was grieving.
I was supposed to write my last exam in the gym. I was supposed to laugh with my friends in the hallway outside. I was supposed to leave campus with a sense of accomplishment, knowing the next time I came back I’d have a cap and gown.
I didn’t know my last time on campus was my last time.
In the year since, I have started, and almost finished a master’s degree. In August, when I complete my program, I will have stepped onto my campus less than ten times (almost all of these to get library books from a non-contact pick up). I have done a master’s degree from my childhood bedroom, and I will have never met my supervisor in person. That is an odd thing to think about.
Moving to a new school in the midst of a pandemic has been isolating. Making friends was a challenge, and I needed people. I needed to have people who understood the batshit insanity of doing grad school while the wold falls apart around you. I think we all need someone who understands the batshit insanity of completing the mundane while the world falls apart. I was in class when the Capitol was stormed. I was grading papers when the number of Covid-19 cases surpassed 100 million worldwide. It feels like I have been in the bubble of my bedroom since April, watching the outside get progressively worst.
This article feels selfish, and it is in many ways. But I think that I am allowed to be saddened by the fact that my entire master’s degree has been completed from my bedroom. I am allowed to be upset that I am losing the entire experience of being a student. I am allowed to grieve for my degree. I need to grieve for my degree. I need to grieve for the people I will never get to meet, and the research I will never get to do. I need to grieve for the camaraderie I will never experience. I am allowed to feel the loss of this experience, and I am allowed to grieve it.
I never got a graduation, and I never will. My master’s will finish in August, and just like my BA, I will receive my diploma in the mail. My parents will pat me on the back, and then go on their way because they don’t understand the work and they don’t feel the loss.
I will be in my bedroom, holding a piece of paper that I earned the same way. Alone.
I get to grieve that. I get to absorb that loss. And then I will pick myself up, and move on.