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Davis, California

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Making commencement memorable during the pandemic

2020 graduates share how they made their commencement special despite COVID-19 restrictions

On April 16, Chancellor Gary May announced that 2021 graduates will have the option to participate in both a socially-distanced, in-person commencement and a virtual graduation ceremony. As the class of 2021 prepares for this occasion, graduates from the class of 2020 shared their virtual commencement experiences and advice for students who are soon to graduate.

In honor of his commencement, Adam Chaban, who graduated in 2020 with a B.S. in biochemistry and molecular biology, held a small celebration with food, decorations and personalized videos. Chaban encouraged the class of 2021 to celebrate their accomplishments with their housemates and family while also following safety guidelines.

“They had a year and a quarter of online schooling, and it must have been very difficult because they couldn’t enjoy their last year in person,” Chaban said. “That being said, they showed hard work and resilience, and I say congratulations to them.”

Kaelyn Tuermer-Lee, who graduated in 2020 with a B.S. in neurobiology, physiology, and behavior (NPB), stated that, although she was looking forward to an in-person commencement, she understood that it was necessary to follow precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“As a worker in the healthcare field, we know firsthand how [COVID-19] has been impacting all these people and communities,” Tuermer-Lee said. “Taking the necessary precautions was definitely the right call, even though it was a little bit disappointing.”

Although a safe, in-person commencement is more feasible for the class of 2021 due to the increased number of fully vaccinated individuals, the contraction and spread of COVID-19 remains a possibility. 

“For the class of 2021, people should make decisions based off of what they and their family are comfortable with, because COVID-19 is a very serious respiratory virus,” Tuermer-Lee said. “I think the virtual ceremony is still going to be a good alternative for those who don’t feel comfortable.”

Katrina Tuazon Perez, who graduated in 2020 with a B.S. in human development, created a space on her Instagram account for students to share how they felt about graduating during the pandemic. Perez reached out not only to UC Davis graduates, but also to graduates from other colleges, high schools and master’s programs. Graduates expressed their gratitude for their time spent in college, their pride in their accomplishments and their frustrations with the pandemic as a whole. 

“I was really sad that, no matter what I was feeling, there were probably a ton of other people who felt worse,” Perez said. “Being able to read how they were coping with [the pandemic] and how frustrated they were made me feel less alone.”

Perez shared that multiple members of her family graduated from middle school, high school and college last year, so they decided to throw a small graduation party in their home. This included a ceremony set up in their backyard, speeches from their parents and trivia questions about the graduates.

“Even if I got a graduation in the future, the moment that I had immediately when I graduated with my cousins and my sister would be more special,” Perez said.

She encouraged the class of 2021 to reflect on their hard work during their time at UC Davis. Even though there won’t be a traditional, large-scale commencement ceremony, she encouraged graduates to still celebrate their accomplishments in a way that is meaningful to them. According to Perez, this celebration could be in the form of a Zoom party or even a small gathering with immediate family.

“You’re closing such a major, important part of your life, you’ve worked very hard, you’ve spent so many hours in the 24-Hour [Study] Room and you’ve studied so much with your friends,” Perez said. “What’s important is that no matter how you celebrate, you celebrate it in a way that makes it special to you.”

Both Perez and Graschelle Hipolito, who graduated in 2020 with a Bachelor of Science in NPB, expressed that even if there will be a traditional graduation ceremony for the class of 2020 sometime in the future, the feeling will not be the same. They pointed out that many graduates have already begun transitioning into the next stage of their lives, with some having moved to different cities or states.

“It’s almost as if the feeling of excitement for graduation and the anticipation has passed, since it’s been a year now,” Hipolito said. “It’s definitely not going to feel the same.”

Despite having to celebrate during lockdown, Hipolito expressed gratitude for the lessons she learned because of the pandemic. She shared that, in her experience, many new graduates are eager to be employed right away, and Hipolito advised the class of 2021 to take the time to find employers that value them and the work that they have to offer.

“There [are] so many employees now who realize, because of this pandemic, that their companies don’t value them,” Hipolito said. “Your degree is worth a lot more than you probably think, so don’t let any employer or business try to downsell all that you’ve accomplished in your four years.”

Hipolito encouraged the class of 2021 to utilize both the virtual and in-person opportunities for commencement. According to Hipolito, the biggest benefit of having a virtual commencement is that graduates can invite an unlimited number of guests, including friends and distant relatives who otherwise would not be able to attend. She also highlighted that the in-person option gives graduates the opportunity to experience some form of normalcy.

“Regardless of how you choose to celebrate your graduation, whether that be virtual, in person, or both, it’s important to remember that no matter what, it’s still a celebration of you,” Hipolito said. “It still stands as a testament to all that you’ve done and all the people that supported you to get you here.”

Written by: Liana Mae Atizado— features@theaggie.org


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