Graduating from College During the Pandemic – by Ramella Suber

When I was four or five years old, I calculated the year when I would graduate from undergraduate school, and I looked forward to that special year for my entire life. However, never did I think in a million years that I would have to spend that day streaming my graduation, while back at home, in my living room, trapped in the house. Having to hear my name be called out on a screen with my photo up for only 10 seconds, was one of the most empty, unsatisfying feelings one could experience, especially when my friends and I had worked so hard for four years to be able to walk across a stage with our families cheering for us, and us cheering for each other. Although this was my reality, I could only feel blessed to have achieved this goal, and in the year that I expected, especially with what I had been through. 

On Labor Day 2019, two weeks into senior year, I was woken up by my mother’s phone call to hear that my grandmother was in the hospital, due to an unexpected complication; and an hour later, mom called again to say that she had passed. The amount of school work and responsibilities I had to face that first semester became three times as hard to deal with, with this loss so heavy in my mind and heart. I spent the whole month explaining to my professors how much of a mental and academic toll her death was on me, as I explained that I was not like other students who may have lost their grandmother or father. I was not a grandchild who visited once in a blue moon, or just for the holidays, but one who lived in her house for my entire life. Despite this, my 15-year promise to myself to make sure I graduate in 2020 became stronger than ever, although my workload was so massive that I had no mental time to grieve anyway. All of my classes that semester were the rest of the science credits needed to complete both my major and minor, so getting through December was my only concern. 

COVID made its first official U.S appearance in January 2020, my very last semester. Although many other countries at the time were on lockdown or beginning to lockdown, I was hoping that it would be contained enough so that I could continue university life with my friends. In March, two months before graduation, Louisiana was quickly becoming a hot spot, and my university, Xavier University of Louisiana, was beginning the process of training the professors on how to teach virtually, in case we all had to be sent home to finish school. The idea of not walking across the stage in May was unthinkable to us, even when we knew there was a very good chance of us being sent home. In order to prevent the spread of the virus on the campus, we began our virtual classes promptly, while still living in our respective dorms. This went on for about a week until our president sent an email saying that we were to return home by March 20.

I did not know what to do because I had all of my belongings in my dorm room with no other place to store them. For the previous three years of undergrad, I used a storage company that held students’ belongings for the Summer and delivered them to campus for the Fall. However, since I was in my final semester of college, I needed to find a way to transport all of my belongings back home with me, which seemed impossible without a car. Fortunately, a small group of upperclassmen (myself included) who lived on another University’s campus were provided the opportunity to store our belongings there until early May. I was also able to pay for a way back home.

Once I returned home to begin quarantining and simultaneously finishing undergraduate studies, I expected my days to have significantly more cons than pros. As predicted, my professors had a difficult time adjusting to the Zoom application, as well as restructuring their curricula to function well in a virtual setting. For example, my Physics 2 Lab class was originally full of many in-person experiments, but due to COVID, those labs were replaced by virtual simulations that were not very realistic. This made it significantly more difficult to retain what I was supposed to learn. 

However, a pleasant positive from this entire experience was the fact that students in my classes collaborated a lot more to help one another learn and succeed. I personally offered and received help to and from my peers. Were it not for the collaborative peer groups that I joined, I would have had to endure those final undergraduate months alone. The events that occurred between October 2019 and May 2020 made for the most stressful academic year of my entire life. 

Returning home in the middle of a semester and not having an in-person commencement ceremony will always be unique to the Class of 2020. However, finally holding the diploma that I had dreamed about receiving for 15 years launched me into a new stage of life and learning that I was excited to face, even in the thick of the pandemic.

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