COVID Commencement: to the class of 2021 from a fellow senior

Kyra Bowar – Copy Editor

In the first month of our first year at Gustavus, we all got that classic black, Gustie t-shirt. I remember looking at the big yellow “21” on the back and thinking, “Wow, I wonder what life will be like in 2021?” Graduation felt like an eternity away. But now, four years and lots of highs and lows later, we COVID seniors—the class of 2021—will walk across that stage next week.
Looking back, there were points within this last year that the idea of an in-person commencement seemed improbable. I barely let myself hope; we’d lost so much. But here we are, almost done with an entire academic year during a pandemic, and on May 13, I get to sit beside (well, six feet away from) my fellow graduating Gusties, decked out in our black gowns, slightly awkward looking caps and rainbow scarves of cords. It might not look like the college graduation that I’d imagined—with family and friends watching virtually, masks and social distancing—but while reflecting on my unconventional senior year, I’ve found that the best way to cope with everything we’ve lost is to be grateful for what we haven’t.
Of course, we all get that dreaded question: “So, what are you doing after you graduate? Any plans?” Up until recently, my answer was a polite, “Um no, please don’t ask me again.” As many recent and almost-grads know, the job market is looking a little funky lately. My advisors told me to start applying for jobs as early as possible, so I started cranking out the resumes and cover letters over winter break. Despite my best efforts, the rejection emails (and worse, the silence) started following shortly after. It’s a little discouraging to be graduating into a pandemic and the resulting economy. Jobs are in short supply, options are limited and lots of us will be moving back into our parents’ houses.
As the spring pushed on, classmates started to get job offers, and I started to panic a little. I’m sure it’s a common spring semester senior year experience, but it’s scary not to have a plan laid out for your future, especially when there’s still a cloud of uncertainty over the entire world. I constantly heard, “Don’t worry! Something will work out!” That’s easy to say when you already have something lined up. But Gusties, whether you know exactly where you’ll be for the next few months or you’re just going with the flow, take a moment and be proud of all that you’ve accomplished. You’re graduating from college! You have the rest of your life to work (yipee), so take these last few moments and soak in life on the hill. You deserve it.
Speaking of life on the Hill, has anyone mentioned how odd it’s been having to adapt to an entirely new way of life in college? Like, can you remember having eight entire people around a table in the Caf? What was that like? In all the hubbub surrounding COVID and new regulations, I haven’t taken the time to slow down and reminisce about how college has changed. When we arrived as first years, it took time to adjust to being independent, doing our own laundry, and living in a new place. Now, as a senior, I’ve had to adjust again, all while mourning the loss of a “normal” college experience. I miss the salad bar and non-packaged fruit. I miss outdoor concerts, in-person dance and music performances and raves. I miss chatting with people in the hallway after class, small talk and joking with professors. I miss just seeing people’s faces as we pass on the sidewalk.
While I’m grateful for everything we’ve been able to do, it seems like no one has said to us, “Hey, it’s okay to be sad that you’re losing a lot of what a college senior year is supposed to be.” It IS okay. It sucks that we never got to see blackbear in concert, have more than one P-Ball or have one last Christmas in Christ Chapel in person. It’s okay to mourn what we’ve lost, but it helps to remember all the amazing memories too.
So senior Gusties, on May 13, when you’re sitting in Lund, take a look around. Remember the hypnotist on your first night in college. Remember pink cherry blossoms on the hill and tulips in the Arb. Remember late nights in your dorm with your friends and grabbing slushies in the Caf. Remember the professors and faculty that encouraged you along the way. Remember your years at Gustavus, not for everything we’ve lost, but for everything we’ve gained along the way.

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