Seniors are robbed of a milestone by not walking in person
Published for The Berkeley Beacon
In an email to the Class of 2020, President M. Lee Pelton announced that Commencement on May 9 and 10 will be postponed.
“No doubt, this news comes to you already anticipated,” he said.
Maybe I’m an unwavering optimist, but I didn’t anticipate this—even when I read that UMass Amherst’s Commencement was postponed, or when I saw photos of Olin College seniors crying during a ‘fauxmencement’ on Instagram, or when my friends predicted it in our last drunk game night weeks ago.
Just last week, I posted an episode of The Beacon Podcast. Ruoyan Chen, a senior visual arts major, talked with me about how sad it was that we are ending our senior year and how we hoped that commencement would still happen.
When I read Pelton’s email, I didn’t know what to say or how to react. How could I tell this news to my parents who bought plane tickets to Boston from the Philippines a year ago for my graduation? Or my relatives who helped organize a post-graduation trip to Cape Cod to celebrate this milestone? I didn’t know how to tell them or what to say, so I just forwarded Pelton’s email.
I can’t tell if I’m mad or sad. I understand Pelton’s decision, since safety and social distancing is the most important action we can do as citizens to help flatten the curve. But I also know we, as seniors, deserved better.
We did not just spend about $48,560 every year for four years to receive our degree like this. We did not just put all of our time and energy into finishing that script, film, showcase, paper, magazine, story, or article to have it end like this. We did not just work so hard for four years and not be able to celebrate those achievements with our friends and loved ones. We deserve to walk.
In the email, Pelton said they are considering a fall date for an in-person event. We don’t want a consideration, we need a commitment that we will be able to walk once it is safe to do so. This is not just my personal will, but the will of most seniors.
As an international student, my parents spent so much money and resources so that I could attend Emerson. When my father read Pelton’s email, he wrote a letter voting against a virtual ceremony. He wanted a delayed in-person graduation. I always imagined the day I’d walk down the stage and shake Pelton’s hand, and show my parents that their hard work had paid off.
I can’t imagine living my life with a milestone robbed from me.
I was going to submit a senior speaker’s speech, but I have since decided not to. It wouldn’t be the same to deliver a speech to a virtual audience. But I do want to share a part of my speech draft:
In my fiction writing class, Professor Kimberly McLarin asked, “Why do we write? Why do we create art?” Ultimately, there were two reasons: to entertain and enlighten. We want to make readers feel something, be transported, and taken on a journey, but we want them to learn something too. We want to invoke change through our art.
In Emerson’s Common Application supplementary essay prompt, which all students had to write, it said, “Much of the work that students do at Emerson College is a form of storytelling.” As much as we love (or hate) Emerson, this school gave us a platform to tell our stories. Whether it’s through acting, writing, producing, or filming, all those stories we told were amazing.
And we shouldn’t stop telling them, even after we (virtually) graduate.
After receiving the bad news, I know it’s going to be hard to finish this last semester. The only way we can move forward is for the college and president to promise that we will be able to walk once it’s safe to do so. It’s hard just letting myself grieve this loss when I know more than 20,000 people died across the world. But, we seniors should allow ourselves to grieve this, because we won’t be able to carry on with our responsibilities, move forward, and tell our stories if we don’t.