On March 11, I got the email while walking out of my last English class: “COVID-19 update on University of Michigan classes, travel, study abroad and large events.”
My heart sank as I opened it. I’d already guessed what I’d find in the email: My senior year, as I knew it, would be coming to a close.
Arriving at my off-campus apartment, I stood in the doorway for what felt like an eternity, trying to decide whether I should pack up and leave or stay for a few days to say goodbye to this place I call home. After talking to my friends and family, I chose to pack up my apartment that same night and head back to my childhood home, about an hour and a half away.
What would I be saying goodbye to if I stayed, anyway? A panic-stricken campus full of students and faculty trying to figure out their next steps in the face of a pandemic that could alter the course of their lives? It wasn’t the University of Michigan that I knew nor the one I wanted to say goodbye to.
It was two days later when the senior class received notification that our graduation ceremony was officially canceled. Most of us had had a glimmer of hope upon receiving our first email from the president of the university stating that classes would continue online without mentioning graduation. Now that hope quickly dissipated.
“All University of Michigan commencement ceremonies are canceled. We will look at ways to celebrate 2020 graduates in the future.”
I sat on the bathroom floor in my parents’ home and sobbed. Hearing my whale-esque sounds of sorrow, worried family members came to my side and shared my pain. My mother, an immigrant to the U.S., had been looking forward to seeing me graduate from this university since the day I set foot on campus. She was 22 years old when the Yugoslav Wars broke out in Croatia, leaving her with a forever incomplete law degree. My father, a first-generation college graduate who has been steadfast in supporting my academic dreams while paying the interest on my student loans, had yearned for the day that he’d see me sport a commencement gown with honors cords and a University of Michigan stole, much like graduation at his alma mater.
I couldn’t remember the last time I cried like that. This wasn’t just a loss for me. It was a loss for my parents, too.
“I couldn’t remember the last time I cried like that. This wasn’t just a loss for me. It was a loss for my parents, too.”
Other people have been (understandably) less sympathetic. A common response when I express sadness over my shortened senior year and canceled graduation has been, “Oh, suck it up. People are dying.” Also, “Well, it’s time to make some sacrifices for those who are suffering!”
And yes, I couldn’t agree more. The world is at a time when we must collectively step back from all we took for granted for the sake of the greater good. The negligence of those who are failing to comply with social distancing standards is, in part, perpetuating the pandemic. My problem is very much a privileged problem, and I am aware of that.
People in the entertainment, hospitality, restaurant and personal service industries are losing their jobs left and right. People working for once
“steady” corporations are, too. Meanwhile, janitors, grocery store employees, garbage collectors and mail carriers are choosing between their health and a paycheck to support their families. Health care professionals are putting their lives on the line to save others while the rest of us are urged to stay home. Weddings are being postponed, and here I am, sitting on the bathroom floor, crying about my college graduation ceremony being canceled.
But can’t I be sad? Can’t I acknowledge the magnitude of the horror and suffering this crisis has brought to the world while still allowing myself to grieve what I’ve lost?
I’m sad for this time in my life that I had dreamed of since I was a young girl, when I learned what “Go Blue!” meant.
I’m sad that the vision I had crafted in my head of my last days on campus, celebrating with friends while feeling four years of academic pressure finally let go, will never come to fruition.
“Can’t I acknowledge the magnitude of the horror and suffering this crisis has brought to the world while still allowing myself to grieve what I've lost?”
I’m sad that I’ll miss the chance to thank, in person, the professors who shaped my worldview so pivotally, who helped me to take a step back from my conservative upbringing and understand things about myself that I hadn’t known.
I’m sad that I’ve lost the opportunity to say goodbye to friends whom I might never see again, and I’m sad that I’ll never close out another night at the law library working on a Milton analysis and hear the library clerk tell me that no, I cannot stay just 30 more minutes.
I’m sad that I won’t be able to celebrate the hard-earned and joyous occasion of my college graduation with my friends and our families in person.
And finally, I’m just sad to realize that my undergraduate experience overlapped with some of the most tumultuous times in our country: Donald Trump’s presidency, a slew of sexual assault allegations, mass shootings and a global pandemic.
On March 20, I decided to head back to campus and pack up the remaining things I failed to take when I abruptly left the first time. I walked to the Robertson Auditorium where the Michigan Fashion Media Summit, a student event for which I was the chief operating officer and on which I worked with 53 other students for the duration of the school year, would have taken place. Our plans to bridge the gap between our campus and the fashion and media worlds by bringing together 19-plus industry speakers and 650-plus attendees were also canceled.
This past year, during one of the most stressful school years I’ve ever experienced, I kept wishing for college to just be over.
Now I understand why they say you must be careful what you wish for.
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