As Universities Cancel Commencements, Graduates Find New Ways To Celebrate

Kate Schaeffer is a 2020 Hofstra graduate

College graduates may not have gotten the pomp and circumstance that they expected in May, but many have found other ways to celebrate with friends and family. 

Due to social distancing requirements in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, universities have modified graduation ceremonies for the Class of 2020, with many opting to either postpone commencement or conduct the event virtually. While graduates can still look forward to a ceremony in August with hope or find inspiration in a live-streamed commencement address, some inevitably and painfully feels like a huge milestone came and went without any palpable significance or excitement.

Hofstra University has moved its commencement ceremony from May 17 to August 23 so recent graduates will have to wait for the momentous celebration that many once expected. Diana Iscenko, a spring 2020 Hofstra graduate from Old Bethpage, admitted that, while she felt grateful for the possibility of an eventual ceremony, the end to her senior year nevertheless felt strange and disappointing. 

“I feel good that I graduated, but I also don’t really feel like I graduated. It was a very unceremonious ending, like, ‘You’re done, thanks for submitting a paper,’ and that’s all that’s really possible for now,” Iscenko said. “You just spent four years working for your degree, and it’s kind of like a rite of passage to get a graduation ceremony, but I’m really glad that Hofstra is trying to give us one, even if it’s late.” 

Kate Schaeffer, a fellow spring 2020 Hofstra graduate, also expressed frustration with the mundanity of her final days as a student.

“Just the fact of losing most of the spring semester when so fun many things are supposed to happen — it was really sad. It’s like the last chance you get with all your friends and all these events, but then it was just gone and no one saw it coming. It was really hard to process and deal with,” Schaeffer said. 

However, while at home in Lumberton, N.J., Schaeffer found creative ways to celebrate graduation with family, friends and neighbors. 

“My parents knew how sad I was, so my mom set up this whole fake graduation ceremony with my family. My dad wore his graduate robes — he went to Drexel and they have the same school colors as Hofstra — and he gave a speech. My mom gave a speech too, and my sister recorded her own really funny version of ‘Pomp and Circumstance,’” Schaeffer said. “I threw my cap, and then they had a drive-by with all our friends. I got cards and balloons and toilet paper, and it was a lot of fun.”

Iscenko, who earned her degree in journalism and English with a concentration in creative writing, was able to take pictures on Hofstra’s campus with her family to commemorate the day.

“On the actual day of my graduation, my mom and my brother and I went to Hofstra and took graduation pictures. Hofstra hasn’t given us our caps and gowns yet, so I used my brother’s since he had similar colors. We went around and took some pictures and it was cute. When we got back, my cousins and my grandma were over. It was like a little surprise party in my backyard. It was really sweet,” Iscenko said.

Looking ahead to the commencement ceremony scheduled in August, Schaeffer, who earned her degree in film studies and production, expressed doubts over the prospect of such a large event taking place by the end of the summer.

“I hope we have a graduation, but realistically, I think it might be a better idea to do it in December. At least if we can graduate with all the people set to graduate in December, then it’s just one big ceremony,” Schaeffer said.

In the meantime, recent graduates can find some catharsis in time spent with their peers—virtually or, when possible, in person.

“One of the hardest parts of all this was that when we finished, there was no celebration. When I took my last class, I was just sitting on my bed at home, and it was so anticlimactic,” Schaeffer said. “So, since we have a house off-campus, a few of us came back to school for two weeks after classes ended. Being able to celebrate with people who were also going through it and from the same school was really nice.”

Katie Fenton
Katie Fenton is an Anton Media Group contributing writer.

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