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Monday, June 10, 2024

The class of 2020 finally gets a graduation

From an abrupt ending to a long-delayed celebration


By JOAQUIN WATERS —- jwat@ucdavis.edu 


When the world shut down in March 2020, I often thought that my high school graduating year — the class of 2021 — got the worst of the whole mess. We went on to spend the better part of a year locked in our homes, unable to celebrate our upcoming graduation and being presented with sad socially-distanced proms as compensation. What should have been a landmark year in our lives in all the best ways became a landmark year for the world in all the worst ways. We were robbed, through no fault of our own or our faculty, of our year to be the big kids on campus.

But there were silver linings to our predicament, chief among them being exempt from the SAT exams, since nobody figured out how to distribute them digitally in the first month of the pandemic. My slightly older peers go green with envy when I tell them that little tidbit, and I can’t say I blame them. And of course, however sad our year of Zoom classes, virtual plays and pretending our laptop cameras were permanently broken may have been, at least the class of 2021 went into it relatively prepared. So no, I no longer believe we got the worst of it. Now my heart instead goes out to the year before mine, the class of 2020, who came so close to the finish line only to have it snatched from them mere months before the end. 

My graduating year never had the illusion that things would be normal. We all knew that our moment of joy — that coveted diploma in our hands, that dumb flat-topped hat on our heads — would at best be tainted by a year of hell. The class of 2020 knew no such thing. Those who went on to college were greeted by the dreaded Zoom University, an experience that has yet to be fully purged from academia. But now it has been four years since that horrid March, and at long last the majority of these same college-going members of the class of 2020 — now the class of 2024 — will have a normal graduation. Well, barring any other massive world-closing events taking place within the next two months (Knock on wood). 

My friends among this circle (the same friends who blow steam out of their ears when I remind them I didn’t have to take the SAT) seem largely to view their coming graduation as a very different event than the one they never had in 2020. I can understand that. 

After all, college is not high school, and thus a college graduation is a wildly different affair than a high school graduation. One marks the nominal end of childhood, the other the nominal beginning of adulthood. College represents a strange, deeply formative between-time. But the fact remains that a celebration of the type that was snatched from them four years ago is incoming for them, and I am happy for them.

Ceremonies are important. Not in any literal sense; functionally there is no difference between being handed a piece of paper on stage and being sent one in the mail. But they matter in a tribalistic sense. A prom, a play, a graduation — these are things American students are conditioned to expect and to associate with specific phases in their lives. Whether this expectation is a good or bad thing, I leave up to socio-political philosophers to debate. But the fact that the class of 2020 was promised these things and had them denied at the last second must have left an indelible mark on how they remember that final year, as much as any of the myriad world events that shaped that time. That one of these things they were denied — a graduation ceremony — will finally occur to those graduating in June of this year is a good thing in my view. 

This has been a strange four years to come of age in. I am far from the first person to point this out, but it is undeniable that going through this incredibly formative phase between childhood and adulthood in a confused and confusing world with one foot in our bedrooms the entire time has had an impact. It remains to be seen what kind of people we will become, and just how much our time in quarantine will affect that. The future is uncertain, but in the present, I think a long-delayed celebration is in order for the class who never had one. Class of 2020/2024, congratulations. The world is, at long last, your oyster.


Written by: Joaquin Waters — jwat@ucdavis.edu


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.



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