Castles: The significance of graduation is still there, even if the celebration is not

This illustration shows three Oregon State Graduates celebrating commencement. They are shown against an orange background to represent the ambiguity in what/how graduates are celebrating this year.

Christine Castles, Columnist

Editor’s Note: This column does not represent the opinion of The Daily Barometer. This column reflects the personal opinions of the writer.

As I am writing this, I am on my way back from visiting my sister for her college graduation. This seems to be foreshadowing toward Oregon State University’s upcoming Commencement.

In contrast to OSU, however, my sister’s walk across the stage was watchable to family and friends over a livestream.

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OSU graduates, on the other hand, will be seen as pictures on a slide show for Commencement. Corvallis, Ore. students will also have the option to participate in an in- person processional which family and friends will be unable to watch.

OSU fourth-year ecological engineering student Katelin Godwin said, “it is important to be safe, however it is definitely sad.”

Certainly the announcement to hold Commencement online was disappointing, but perhaps necessary when examining the climate of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Except for class of 2020, everybody before us got this huge celebration,” Godwin said.

The class of 2021 has had over a year to reckon that they will be having an alternative ceremony to their predecessors yet are still seeing curve balls such as the last-minute decision to hold the Corvallis, Ore. processional.

Godwin is pleased that there is now an option to celebrate graduation in person but said, “it doesn’t feel very real still.”

Comparing the ceremonies of this year and pre-pandemic years is frustrating even more to students who have been anticipating this celebration for a long time.

“The feeling of you walking and just thousands of people cheering you on is just phenomenal,” Mohammed Alkharashi, fourth-year mechanical engineering student, said while reflecting on watching his two older siblings graduate from OSU before him.

While considering the still imminent threat to public health that COVID-19 poses, celebration plans following graduation have also been forced to be modified.

Had COVID-19 not persisted so long, Alkharashi would have expected to see his parents fly into Corvallis, Ore.

College graduation ceremonies may only take a few hours, they might even be pretty boring to sit through, but for most graduates, they only happen once.

Julia Hunter, third-year kinesiology student, on the other hand, is pursuing physical therapy and looks forward to walking across the stage in her white coat.

“For my doctorate, that has to be big,” Hunter said about her future celebration plans. “That’s a lot of work, I’m going to need a vacation after that one.”

For the rest of graduates not pursuing another degree though, this is all they will get. COVID-19 is still keeping people apart, making it more challenging even to see friends to celebrate their graduation.

Alkharashi said he would likely see his friends while still being socially distanced.

Godwin and her friends have all been vaccinated, but finding time to all say their goodbyes before going separate ways is going to be difficult.

The online nature of school is also a strange atmosphere to complete classes in.

“I’m submitting my last assignment [during] finals week and then be like, ‘aight, I’m done,’” Alkharashi said.

Similarly Hunter said, “I’m going to take that last final and I’m going to hit that submit button and I’m just going to be like, ‘that’s it.’”

This strangely mundane way to end your college career would make the transition into the workforce seem robotic. Students now are not only working through the process of finding their first jobs post-graduation, they are also competing with even more people who have the same degree, but many more years of experience.

“I’m excited but terrified,” Alkharashi said. “I don’t know what my life’s going to look like in two months or a month and a half, I have no idea.”

The usual celebrations are not happening, at least not like they used to, but students are still graduating. This achievement does not seem to be less meaningful because of the lack of family visits or parties.

As the only one in her immediate family who will have a bachelor’s degree, Hunter said, “I know that even though we’re in a pandemic and I don’t actually get to physically walk across that stage, it’s still a big thing.”

Conversely, Godwin said, “It doesn’t feel as exciting to be done.”

Rightfully, students are frustrated. After over a year of online classes, we are ready to stop spending so much time in Zoom meetings. 

Between finishing another exhausting term online and missing the graduation that might have been, Hunter said, “I am trying to be positive.”

So even if the celebration does not feel the same, graduation is still graduation. Students are still completing their college degree, amidst a global pandemic nonetheless.

Although we cannot go out and party or do all the things we want to, we can still recognize the huge accomplishments of graduating students this year.