COVID-19 Graduation

By Madison Yurek

My last graduation was one of the happiest days of my life. My family all there for me, pride exploding at the seams, and my moms homemade strawberry shortcake, my favorite, to top it all off. I walked across that stage with my head held high and my cheeks burning from smiling too much. The bitter sweet tears left my eyes as all my friends’ caps and my own flew through the air. I finally achieved something amazing and had the ceremony to celebrate it.

That was my moment, but it wouldn’t be the last because another countdown started to my college graduation. Four years. I had only four more years of school and then my last graduation to send me off to the real world. I entered a freshman as a nervous ball feeling alone, but it didn’t last long. I quickly made a few friends and had more work to do than I knew what to do with. I didn’t have time to be nervous, just had to adapt and do my best. I will never forget my first class in my field though, I felt like that was where I fit in, I was lucky enough to fall in love with my major. Before I knew it, it was sophomore year and probably my most stressful one. My Wednesdays were three four-hour classes back to back and my hour commute to school and an hour commute home. I still to this day don’t know why I did that to myself. Although its sad to say, but at this point I was getting very much used to the sleepless nights, stressful days, and giving up any free time I had to dedicate to school.

And on to junior year, which was probably the year of the most connections. This was the year I stayed at the computer studio until two in the morning drinking coffee trying to stay awake with friends. We had many delirious laughs and sometimes some anxiety driven tears. I also really began to bond with my professors, as they became some of the best mentors I have ever had and I finished it all up with a super fun summer internship. Junior year seemed to fly by and my days in my count down were decreasing as I entered into my senior year a completely different person than the ball of nervous I once was. This time I was confident and ready to take on the world. Because I knew in less than a year I would be walking once again across the stage. So I dug down deep, I built my portfolio, crafted resumes and cover letters, and starting to prepare for capstone. Was my work really going to be in an exhibition? College life brought me laughs, tears, stress, anxiety, happy times, and all of it, but most of all it gave me a second home with a new family.

“Breaking news: new virus found in China.” I didn’t think twice about it, it was in China across the world. Keep working, get your projects done, plan how you’ll decorate your graduation cap, and spend your last semester with your friends. “The Coronavirus has made its way into the United States, Seattle is getting hit hard.” It will still be okay… right? Don’t think about it you have enough on your plate as it is. I continued on. One beautiful February day my class took a trip to Baltimore to explore art museums as research for capstone. My closest friends and I decided to go to Panera for lunch to take time to just talk and decompress no working on school allowed. We snapped a selfie before we left and said our goodbyes. I didn’t know that might be the last time I saw my friends at the time.

“Due to COVID-19 classes will be virtual for two weeks”

            “We are trying our best, we are sorry, but classes will be online for the reminder of the semester.”     

“Capstone will now be virtual, please continue working hard.”

 “We regret to inform you that due to COVID-19 we had to cancel all internships for the remainder of the year. We’re sorry.”

“Dear Seniors, Graduation commencement will be postponed and will have to be recognized another time. We are truly sorry.”

What am I supposed to do now? My heart shattered over and over as I lost everything. I grieved, I cried more times than I can count in one week, I’m pretty sure my parents are worried I need professional help at this point, and I lost all motivation. I understand that this is for the better, that the decisions had to be made, and I was very grateful that my family and I were healthy. Don’t get me wrong I understood the circumstances and how much pain the entire world is in. Seniors crying, small shops panicking, elders living in fear, grocery stores struggling to keep up, and death tolls increasing at an alarming rate. I am living through history, but that didn’t change that I couldn’t stop thinking about the death of my future.

Capstone, graduation, dream job – all gone in the blink of an eye. It’s been a couple weeks now and I sit here writing this at my makeshift desk that I placed in front of the large bay window in my home. The sun shinning means it’s a beautiful day and that is what continues to give me hope. I have strawberry shortcake my mom made for my birthday coming up in just a few days and allowed me to dig into it early because it put a smile on my face. And my friends on a video chat as we pretend we are in class to try and be productive. I have just put finishing touches together for my capstone that will be going live in the coming week and I have fully accepted the new reality of my exhibition. I think about how much stronger my portfolio will be with my capstone in it for next applications because I will not give up on getting that dream job ever.

And even as I sit here thinking about everything in this world changing, the rollercoaster of emotions that I have been through in the past month, and the satisfaction I feel for making it this far without allowing myself to give up my heart still hurts for one thing. Graduation. My phone background is of that selfie in Panera and I like to look at me surrounded by friends all as happy as can be. How was that a month ago and now I’m not even sure I will be able to say goodbye because we are states away? I won’t be able to thank my professors for helping me grow into an even better person. I won’t have a decorated cap and a moment to throw it in the air. I wont be going shopping for the perfect graduation outfit, a silly disappointment I know, but something I looked forward too. I wont have senior portraits on campus or a chance to walk across the stage and shake hands with the dean to get my diploma. I wont have the pride and joy surrounded by those I love for a day all about my major accomplishment.

I went through the adventure of a lifetime, I had my worst days and my best days in the past four years and I wont have the one thing that wrapped it all up and tied up with a pretty bow. My heart hurts for the world, but it aches and throbs for the seniors. I have grieved my graduation, no matter how sad it is and it is time to keep going forward. So to all my seniors out there remind yourself this is not it. You are still you, we are all stronger for going through this, and I know deep in my heart we will come out on top one day ready to take on the world. Count your blessings, don’t take the little moments right now for granted, and look forward to our expanding future. And congratulations to the class of 2020, we did it even while the world seemed to be ending.

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