The Online Class of 2020: Disrupted, Obstructed and Impeded
Written by: Ellie Smith Design by: Aimee Lee
I should have spent ninety weeks across three years studying for my degree on the University of York’s cosy green campus. I’ve physically attended the university – sat on its lawns, met with lecturers and engaged with seminars for around half of that time. My first year was plagued with strikes. I spent my second year studying abroad. My final year was thwarted by strikes (again), before the coronavirus hit and the summer term moved to online.
Am I bothered by online graduation? Honestly, no. I’ll miss living with my friends, but I don’t need the closure of a graduation ceremony. I don’t need the closure of a ceremony to mark the end of this stage of my life; I’m focused on the future, not the past. I don’t need the closure of a ceremony because cumulatively, I have spent less than a year physically attending lectures, seminars and office hours on the University of York campus.
I want to emphasize that I’m not undermining my qualification – this ballpark ‘less than a year’ figure doesn’t include the time I spent revising for exams, writing essays that were as long as ten thousand words, or the year I spent studying in Denmark. My degree was rigorous and I’m beyond proud of mine and my friends’ achievements. I’m simply highlighting that my degree hasn’t been rooted strongly enough to York’s physical campus for me to need the closure that a physical graduation offers.
I’d also like to inform you that graduation ceremonies are painfully boring. I’m not diminishing anybody’s achievement – graduating is something to be proud of – but listening to a man I have never met before (i.e. the recently hired Vice-Chancellor) read hundreds of names off a script is a long process. Admittedly, I’ve only attended one graduation and perhaps it was boring because the only person I knew graduating was my brother. It reminded me of a bizarre school assembly, except all of the ‘teachers’ were wearing pretentious outfits that seemed to have been teleported from the fifteenth century. Academia is full of elitist traditions.
Do you know how much it costs to rent a gown on the day of your graduation? It’s at least £40 and the price can easily rise to more than £80. Frankly, the actual ceremony is boring and expensive. Missing my own graduation ceremony isn’t that disappointing, but I can’t say the same for missing the accompanying celebrations.
I regret that I’m not going to have photos taken with friends and family. I regret that I couldn’t spend my final term at university enjoying all the sights that we’d otherwise taken for granted in the city. I regret that we never had one final night out and I regret that we never completed the bucket list that had been haphazardly sellotaped to the fridge for at least six months. However, every regret that I have mentioned can be overturned – if I really want. I can hire a gown and take photos in my garden with my family (which is cheaper than hiring a gown on the day of graduation, funnily enough). I fully intend to see my friends again and make new memories as soon as its safe to do so. I don’t need a graduation ceremony to say goodbye; it’s not ‘goodbye’, it’s a postponed ‘hello’ caused by a global pandemic.
I’ve had multiple people tell me that they’re not going to bother attending their virtual graduation. I had one American friend describe how her brother’s US graduation was essentially a YouTube video with names rolling down a screen. Virtual graduation obviously isn’t going to be perfect, but let’s not pretend that physical graduations were either. Virtual graduations are currently the best way of celebrating our achievements. Ideally, universities will also organise opportunities for their 2020 graduates to don gowns, take photos and meet up with their friends again during 2021. If your university isn’t doing this, that’s okay. There’s nothing stopping you from organising your own faux-graduation with friends (except a pandemic, so it’s reasonable for this to be organised in the near-future too). Graduation, whether physical or virtual, is what YOU make of it. For 2020 graduates, our education has been disrupted, obstructed and impeded by strikes and a pandemic. This makes our achievements even more admirable.
Let’s arrange our own, more memorable celebrations (as soon as it’s feasible to do so).