Featured photo: WFU graduating senior Alexx Andersen (courtesy photo)
Jenna Brzykcy is heartbroken.
A senior at UNCG who has been studying English for the last few years, Brzykcy says that the coronavirus pandemic has upended her final semester at college — along with everything else on the planet.
“Once the realization that graduation was not going to be truly happening for me the way that I envisioned it, it was hard,” she says.
Brzykcy along with Beau Brandhorst, Chelsea McBay, Alexx Andersen and Lakiyah Hardin-Hunter are just a handful of millions of other college students who will not be able to walk across their respective stages and accept their diploma this spring. Many of the graduations were supposed to take place last week.
“You know graduation is supposed to be a fun time,” Brzykcy says. “You’re supposed to hang out with your friends and celebrate. Get dinners or brunches. It’s a time of celebration and I am no longer able to celebrate with the people I want to because I am in isolation.”
When UNCG announced that the class of 2020 graduation ceremony had been cancelled in late March, McBay, also a UNCG student duel majoring in English and Communications, was astounded.
“When they cancelled, I was in shock, but at the same time I wasn’t surprised just because of all the logistics that go into a graduation ceremony,” she says. “It would have been unwise to hold it in person because of the density of attendees…My class worked incredibly hard for years to get to this point and then — Poof! — it was taken out of the palm of our hand.”
Like Brzykcy and McBay, Brandhorst, another UNCG student working toward obtaining his bachelor’s degree in history, also expressed his dismay over the cancellation of UNCG’s formal graduation, stating that this was supposed to be a “momentous occasion.”
“I was disappointed,” he says. “I mean plane tickets may or may not have been bought. The best that I could say is that it is an emotional rollercoaster. I don’t want to get a diploma mailed to me; you know, I want to receive my diploma.”
In addition to missing out on the ceremony, many college students will also be unable to celebrate with friends and family the way they planned. Brzykcy says she was anticipating a vacation with her family to celebrate her achievement.
“We hadn’t had a vacation in years,” she says sadly. “So, like the fact that we were going to be going somewhere together, all four of us together, especially with my sibling and I being in college, it’s very difficult to get all of us together anymore.”
The same can be said about Wake Forest University graduate Alexx Andersen who received their master’s in divinity recently. Not only were they looking forward to graduation, but much to their dismay, a special gathering called the Lavender Graduation Ceremony had also been cancelled. The celebration is held annually in order to acknowledge, as well as honor, the struggles that LGBTQ+ students have to face to successfully obtain their degree.
“I identify as non-binary,” they say. “So, I was looking forward to getting that lavender cord and celebrating with my friends from the LGBTQ community. But as sad as I am, I really do just want everyone to be safe.”
The pandemic has disrupted future life plans as well. With the economy shut down and unemployment skyrocketing, it has jeopardized Brzykcy’s ability to find a job after she receives her degree.
“For someone who has little experience compared to people who have years of experience — I am not going to be chosen first,” she says. “So, my career has been pushed back. So really my life has essentially been put on hold, because no one really knows where we are going to be at in one or two months.”
Lakiyah Hardin-Hunter faced the same struggle after her final semester before obtaining her master’s degree in healthcare administration from Winston-Salem State University. Like Brzykcy, she’s also unsure about taking the next step in her life journey: finding a stable job.
“I am currently still without a job,” Hardin-Hunter says. “Besides graduation, this pandemic cancelled a couple of in-person interviews I had.”
In an attempt to fight the disappointment for graduates who will not be getting an in-person ceremony, some universities are presenting virtual graduation ceremonies. On May 8, WSSU posted a two-and-a-half-hour virtual graduation via YouTube that consisted of a list of student’s names, majors and photos or video clips that were submitted by graduating students.
“My initial thoughts?” Hardin-Hunter says. “Graduation day is a day for celebration. Class of 2020 are worth more than a virtual graduation. Our families, friends, and professors were all ready to see us walk together and be acknowledged for all the hard work and dedication put in. The virtual graduation could never, in my opinion, make up for an in-person graduation.”
On May 11, UNCG held their virtual graduation celebration, to honor the graduating class of 2020. The video contained a message from Chancellor Gilliam and a banner that flew across the sky with the words “Congrats UNC Greensboro Newest Alumni.”
On Monday, WFU hosted an online graduation ceremony in which university president Nathan Hatch, along with other staff and faculty, spoke about the momentous occasion.
On Tuesday, May 5, in an effort to include all graduating seniors from across the country, YouTube announced a nationwide virtual commencement video titled “Dear Class of 2020.”
The video, which will premiere on June 6, aims to honor both high school and college seniors whose graduation ceremonies were cancelled. Commencement speeches from President Barack Obama and First Lady, Michelle Obama, in addition to speeches by Korean boyband BTS, singer-songwriter Lady Gaga, Nobel prize winner Malala Yousafzai, as well as former secretary Robert M. Gates, and Secretary Condoleezza Rice will also be included.
Guilford County schools have announced that they will not only be postponing formal high school graduation, but 28 of the district’s schools will be holding “drive-thru” recognitions instead to make up for it.
“The class of 2020 will always be known as one of the strongest and most resilient group of graduates,” McBay states. “That being said, if you are still in college, cherish every single moment. All of us lost out on all our lasts, but you haven’t. Go to Cookout at 1 a.m. with your friends. Do study sessions in the library. Go to sporting events. Talk to your professors. Break out of your bubble. You won’t regret it. Do it for us.”