As I finish the last semester of my senior year from behind a computer screen, I glance around my bedroom which now triples as my lecture hall, research lab and office. When I left my small Southern California hometown of Redlands to move to Los Angeles as a freshman, I never thought I would end up graduating from college in the same room where I opened my USC acceptance letter four years prior.
Just a few weeks ago, I was preparing for the last few months of my college life. I was finishing up essays and studying for exams, planning for commencement and spending time with some of my best friends who have been integral to my life since move-in day.
Without any clue as to when we would be allowed to return to campus per USC’s decision to move classes online, students packed their personal belongings and textbooks; unknowingly, seniors left behind more than just our bedspreads and hygiene products, but also our pictures highlighting our last college memories and most near and dear possessions. We unknowingly spent one last night in our college apartments. We unknowingly said goodbye to our friends. We unknowingly stepped out of our last undergraduate lecture hall. We unknowingly made our last walk across McCarthy Quad, beside the Cromwell Track and within USC Village.
April — normally filled with worries about graduation photos, sashes embroidered with our college identities and invitations to our loved ones — has been transformed to a time of community endeavors and support to and from universities in all corners of the country. Eagerly, teams such as Trojan Shelter, Undergraduate Student Government and the USC Housing Equity Project rallied together to help others escape domestic violence, find shelter and offer resources to survive the many months to come.
Aside from the glimmer of silver linings, the truth is that every senior deserves thunderous applause as our names are announced on the microphone. This was supposed to be our moment, a time to walk across the stage in front of our peers and soon-to-be colleagues, as our loved ones felt butterflies while watching the past two decades of our lives flash before their eyes. All we have now are muted microphones, disabled video settings and virtual commencement speakers.
Though we may get to walk eventually, planning for the May 15 virtual graduation is not quite the same; jokingly, my family talks of the multipurpose uses for our living room coffee table as a stage and old sheets as a gown. On the bright side, at least my dog can now partake in the celebration.
While the sudden end to senior year for college students has been devastating, it is not without intense gratitude that we take this time to practice social distancing and applaud all of our health care professionals and essential workers. The coronavirus should be taken seriously, but it is OK to grieve.
We lost something extremely significant to us. Graduation is a huge milestone in our lives and the closing of a major chapter. For some of us, this marks the end of an organized education and the entrance into the real “adult world.” For others, it denotes the entrance into a complicated and elusive application cycle for graduate school. But for all us, it’s truly just the beginning. While our lives after this year will vary, we are a family — not just as USC students, but nationwide as a cohesive graduating class. Although college entrance essays varied widely across the nation, our departing statement of adversity is unified.
So much has been left unsaid, but at least we know we are in this together. While we are advised to be at least 6 feet apart from one another, technology has enabled our connection across the nation, in some ways, to feel closer than ever.
It is time to ingrain our minds with the last few memories of college we have: the last few conversations in hallways, the last professor we saw outside of a computer screen and the last few hugs we shared with our friends. While there is a resonant anxiety, I must say I am so proud. In what could arguably be the most challenging few years of college history, we have all gained an ability to persist despite the sensation of a constant trying, uphill battle.
Writing this, I sit in silence looking at a quote I pinned to my bulletin board four years ago. “It’s the journey, not the destination.” Never before have these few words been so applicable. A lot has changed in the past four years, yet these turn of events have led me back to where I started. Often, I think about the first time I stepped foot on campus. Excited, but nervous. Overwhelmed, but finally at ease. Literally lost, but figuratively found.
The truth is, I don’t know whether to cry from sadness or smile at the memories. While I did not have the pleasure of getting to meet all of you, I will be cheering for everyone in one of my oversized USC T-shirts from behind my computer screen come May 15.
Congratulations, my fellow Class of 2020, we did it.