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Johns Hopkins graduate: Sad about missing commencement, but not my future | COMMENTARY

Filmmaker and director Spike Lee delivers the commencement speech to the 2016 graduating class of Johns Hopkins University. This year, commencement will be held online because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Filmmaker and director Spike Lee delivers the commencement speech to the 2016 graduating class of Johns Hopkins University. This year, commencement will be held online because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Caitlin Faw / Baltimore Sun)

Johns Hopkins University recently announced that the Class of 2020 Commencement would be a virtual one and that all classes would be held online for the remainder of the semester.

Commencement was set to happen in May, my favorite time of year at Johns Hopkins because of how joyful the campus feels — how very collegiate. On any given day in the spring, a walk through campus means a walk past seminars held outside on our gorgeous green quads where students sit cross-legged on the grass talking about social theory or poetry. It means endless games of ultimate Frisbee, hammocks hung between trees, the most vibrant flowers blooming around beautiful brick buildings where you took a class that changed your life. It means a certain lightness in the air, a certain gratitude, the knowledge of a year passed and the inevitable nostalgia that accompanies it.

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I love Johns Hopkins, and I especially love campus in the spring. This semester, I knew I would love it most of all. This was going to be it, the last hurrah, the last time that I would be in the same place with so many of my friends. The first and last time I would celebrate college commencement, take part in senior ceremonies, my loved ones right there with me.

I graduated one semester early, this past December, and so many people asked if I would still be on campus in the spring, if I would be walking in May. As if it were even a question. I wanted the pomp and circumstance, as much for myself as for my family. I wanted to celebrate my time here with the people who made it all possible for me. I wanted all of it, the closure to a chapter in my life that has meant so much.

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But none of it will happen. Or it will, but online. For my fellow classmates and I, it is hard to accept that this is how our college experiences are ending, so abruptly and impersonally. That we never got to say goodbye to each other in person is a disappointment. So is the fact that our parents will not get to see us walk across the graduation stage; that we will have, somehow, a virtual commencement.

It is even harder to accept the full picture of this pandemic — one with consequences far more debilitating than we might realize or face ourselves. For so many college students, the disruption of the semester means exacerbated food and housing insecurity. It means continuing classes online, which can be impractical for students who lack consistent and stable internet access, who may not have computers at home that they can use, who must contend with all these stresses and more. In direct and indirect ways, COVID-19 has fundamentally changed our college experiences — for some, more starkly than others.

My personal sorrow is for the memories I will not get to make. It is a small sorrow, given all that is happening worldwide. And when I put the loss of commencement in perspective, the gratitude I feel overpowers all else. I am grateful because, as I write this, I am quarantining in a safe and stable home with people whom I love. I am grateful because the magnitude of my sadness for commencement is a reflection of my love for Johns Hopkins — for the people I have met, the opportunities I have had and all the past spring semesters, sitting cross-legged on the grass, debating Durkheim and Weber and discussing Audre Lorde.

Still, it’s hard. It is a difficult time for college seniors. It is especially difficult for first generation and low-income students, for immigrant kids and kids of immigrants. For so many people, it means a lot to be here — to be at Hopkins, to recognize the sheer and immense joy of having experienced and learned so much at a university so esteemed, to have made it.

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But the absence or presence of ceremonies doesn’t change any of these facts. We have made it. We have met people who have changed our lives. We have found and created and become ourselves through the knowledge we have gained and the moments we have shared with one another.

And yes, it is an upsetting truth: Every day that goes by, our college narratives are being shaped irrevocably by a pandemic that we had no way of foreseeing. But life is unforeseeable. That’s how it goes. So we stay inside, we stay safe, we social distance, we donate, if we can, money and resources to those in greater need — and we reflect on what we are lucky enough to have had while we had it.

Kiana Boroumand (kboroum1@alumni.jhu.edu) graduated from Johns Hopkins last December with a Bachelor of Arts in English literature and sociology.

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