As a parent, college graduation comes with moments of pride paired with angst.
Pride in their big picture accomplishments, angst over the logistics.
Pride over this rite of passage, angst over making sure "everyone is happy.”
Leading up to graduation the student is finishing senior week, long days and nights of papers and parties, worries about packing up, sadness about leaving school, fraught about their next move, already missing their friends, unsure what to make of the fact that everyone keeps telling them these are the best days of their lives.
In 2020 we were spared the pleasure and the pain when it was canceled due to the emergence of Covid. A letter from the Dean stated in stark terms that they are canceling graduation and will “celebrate these seniors at a later date.” This was a gut punch at the time, it improved with age.
Our 2022 graduation felt normal with a hint of Covid sprinkled in. Worried about the logistics but the coronavirus still hung in the air like the remnants of a bad sneeze. Does the restaurant have outdoor seating, should the kids get near the grandparents, is Tipitinas really a good idea?
It was on our minds, just not top of it. Maybe that’s why many of us returned from New Orleans with head-cold cases of the virus, typical of this vintage.
This year also brought a make-up graduation for the cancelled 2020 version, in what they appropriately called the “Comeback Commencement.” It felt a lot like a timely graduation with all the caps and gowns, pomp and circumstances of the original, but it was different. It was better...for the graduates.
The Comeback Commencement was equal parts reunion and victory lap. It was more comeback than prepare to check out.
There was still the need to land hotel rooms and dinner reservations, but the campus was emptier and more manageable. The kids were happy to be there, not stressed about leaving. They hadn’t spent the previous week staying up all night partying, they’d spent it working at their jobs, collecting a paycheck, making their own transportation plans.
At the make-up graduation they were enjoying this moment that had been taken away, made better by the distance and the delayed gratification. The comeback graduates better understood the need to enjoy the moment because on the other side of Sunday their adult lives were waiting, with projects to finish and emails to return.
The difference in perspective was laid bare by the calls and texts leading up to the two commencements. I heard excitement from one daughter and dread from the other. One felt like a commencement, the other like a termination:
“I’m so excited to see my friends” vs. “I’m so sad to say goodbye to everyone.”
“I can’t wait to get a Zingermans sandwich” vs. “I can’t believe it’s the last time I’ll have pizza at the Boot”
“I'm gonna walk through the Diag without having to go to the library” vs. “I just had my last walk in Audubon Park.”
In two years our daughter went from graduation apprehension to carefree commencement.
A suggestion: Let Seniors leave campus after final exams, get on with their lives and then bring them back for graduation. Let their lives commence before commencement.