GRAPHIC BY SARA SHEIKH / THE SPUTNIK PHOTOGRAPHY
Class of 2020 went down in history as the class of COVID-19.
Along with this title came an abrupt and unexpected end to what was supposed to be one of the most memorable years in their lives.
Around this time last year, the graduating class was preparing to celebrate their milestone accomplishment. They were thinking about graduation parties, what professors they wanted to personally thank, and making plans to say goodbye to friends, all the while COVID-19 was spreading worldwide.
Leah Kellestine, a Laurier Brantford Alumni, completed her honors bachelor of social work when the country went into lockdown last year.
Leah Kellestine / Contributed Image
Instead of walking across the stage for her family and friends to see, she received a special package in the mail.
“Laurier sent all of the 2020 grads a box with our degree inside, and there were also some extra things in there too, like some confetti and stickers,” said Kellestine.
Although this was a thoughtful effort on the university’s part, many students could not help but feel that completing their education was an anti-climatic experience.
“I commend that effort as each box for all of the grads was made by hand,” said Kellestine.
She instead had a small celebration at home with her family when it arrived. Kellestine describes her last semester as one of great uncertainty both due to COVID-19 and, like many graduates, she was also not sure what to do next.
“Leading up to finishing my last year, I didn’t know what was next. I had left my options open and ended up applying to colleges for post-grad certificates and teacher’s college […] I eventually decided based on COVID to go back to school for a post-grad certificate in youth justice and interventions,” she said.
Meghan Cameron was completing her honours bachelor of arts in criminology last year.
“It certainly was not a traditional graduation,” said Cameron reflecting on the situation a year later.
Meghan Cameron / Contributed Image
“I did the virtual toast that Laurier organized on Zoom, and my mom and sister baked a few cupcakes for me,” said Cameron.
Like many students, Cameron’s post-graduation plans were turned upside down.
“I had planned to attend Laurier again for their MBA program but found the virtual format difficult. I’m going to revisit that idea when everything settles down,” she said.
COVID-19 has left many Canadians in a weird waiting stage where they are looking for things to get better to continue pursuing their plans pre-COVID-19.
“I worked a bit during the pandemic but didn’t look for anything related to my field. I always knew I wanted to continue my studies,” said Cameron.
Brooke Hillman / Contributed Image
Brooke Hillman was completing her Bachelor’s degree in criminology, when COVID-19 turned our world upside down.
“We were so close to being done, so it wasn’t a massive change or setback; I think I just felt disappointed because I missed the social interaction that school gave me,” said Hillman.
Although Hillman’s plans post-graduation were temporarily put on hold, she started making her dreams come true.
“My long-term goal after graduating was to be a police officer, so I wanted to get a security job before applying to the police force. But the pandemic put those plans on hold for a while. I just got a job as a security guard, and I’m in the process of applying to the police force,” said Hillman.
Ryan Gram / Contributed Image
Ryan Gram was a part of the class of 2020 and the first graduating class of the integrated musical arts program at the Waterloo campus.
The graduating class last year had such different expectations of their last year and graduation. And some students like Gram watched past graduations to fulfill their expectations.
“Last year was strange for graduation. I watched a lot of the online graduation events at the time. I watched YouTube graduation ceremonies, as well as various convocation speeches, like the one from Trudeau,” said Gram.
After performing his last assignment, as a live stream concert, Gram toasted some champagne with his family.
“My family surprised me with a graduation ceremony the day after I was supposed to have my convocation, which was sweet and cute. As there were some cake and a fake diploma they made,” said Gram.
The university and all the faculties ended the year with their best efforts to make the graduating class feel special. Still, many students describe the whole experience as anti-climatic.
“It was really strange not to get the closure I was expecting over the prior three years, especially since so many events were happening,” said Gram.
Gram attended both Laurier’s toast and the faculty of music’s graduation event on Zoom.
“There was also a Zoom graduation toast that Laurier held which was pretty underwhelming but still appreciated. There was also a Zoom call for the faculty of music and their grads which went better, and it was nice to see all my friends and faculty,” he said.
After graduation, Gram got accepted into the world-renowned Berklee College of Music for their master’s program. And was able to travel to Spain to start his postgraduate studies.
“I’m currently studying in Spain and will be graduating this July. Who knows yet if it’ll all be online again,” said Gram.
Students graduating this year are projected to be the second graduating class with no convocation ceremony. It is understandable if graduates this year also feel robbed of their dreams to walk across the stage or like they are missing out on having their hard work recognized by family and friends. But they are not alone; the class of 2020 understands what it’s like.
Some students graduating might have a clear picture of what they want to do next, but some do not know yet, which is entirely normal.
“It is okay to be uncertain about what is next and any changes that may arise. It is okay to struggle with change. With the change, there can be new possibilities. Allowing yourself to slow down and not feel rushed to decide on things is okay. Take the time to self-reflect, get to know yourself and take each day as it comes,” said Kellestine.
For students who do not know what is next or even for students who think they do, they must keep their happiness in mind and let that guide them in life always.
“I want students graduating this year to know that it’s always okay to change and grow. Don’t feel obligated to anything. If something doesn’t spark joy, change it. You’re allowed to outgrow spaces and ideas of what your life should be,” said Cameron.
One thing that alumni this year and all years before and to come, can take comfort in, is that no matter where life takes them, they will always be a Laurier Golden Hawk.