From Class of 2020, with love

Graduates celebrate at an in-person commencement ceremony. One graduate stands on their chair with their arms extended.
After their virtual commencement ceremony last May, members of the Class of 2020 returned to USC from locations around the country to celebrate their graduation in person. (Kellie Chen | Daily Trojan)

Last May, Whitney Hester’s family hosted an intimate family gathering in Texas in honor of her graduation from the Glorya Kaufman School of Dance. Yet, Hester couldn’t help but feel that her four years at Kaufman — where she had spent nearly every day in the studio rehearsing with her cohort and forming connections with her classmates — were left unfinished.

As the live graduation feed played during the gathering, Hester felt sad that she was unable to experience the ceremony in person with her parents and younger siblings, whom she said now also want to go to USC. She had been looking forward to her own graduation since 2019, when she was invited on stage during a previous Kaufman commencement ceremony to hand out gifts as graduates walked on stage.

With the University promising to host an in-person commencement ceremony once it was safe to do so, Hester always knew she wanted to return to participate in the ceremony. Having spent a lot of money on her commencement sash, class ring and dress, she was looking forward to celebrating with her family. When President Carol Folt announced in March that the University would hold a combined in-person ceremony for both the Class of 2020 and the Class of 2021, Hester felt she might finally get the closure she needed. 

“It doesn’t feel like it’s necessarily over, that closure hasn’t really happened yet,” Hester said. “It just kind of feels unfinished, if that makes sense. So I think having graduations … we were at least able to celebrate our four years. I get to see friends that I haven’t seen in a year. I get to see my professors I haven’t seen in a year now.”

Like many other students from the Class of 2020 who are now located across the country and around the world, Hester traveled from her new job in Atlanta, Ga., to participate in her commencement ceremony.

However, not all students were so quick to welcome the belated commencement ceremony.

Ope Abimbola, who received a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering last year, said the notice of commencement was last minute and made it difficult for some graduates and family members to arrange for travel plans and time off work. Some of them had already begun to move on.

Having returned home to Idaho after finishing classes last May, Abimbola said, originally, he was not sure if he would be allowed to participate in the commencement ceremony as the in-person commencement ceremonies were previously restricted to California residents. However, after the regulations changed to allow out-of-state students, Abimbola said he decided to attend to celebrate both his bachelor’s and master’s degree in materials engineering that he finished in 2021. 

“Just being able to walk across the stage is pretty nice,” Abimbola said. “It’s just a good feeling to see all the things you’ve accomplished … after going through the whole motions of classes and everything, just the struggle of school and what that was. Being successful in that and being able to see people celebrate your success as well, I think is just a good feeling.”

After buying tickets last year to attend Class of 2020’s commencement ceremony “just for it to be canceled,” Abimbola’s father and younger brother will now be able to accompany and celebrate with him a year later. 

For many members of the Class of 2020, the in-person commencement ceremony was also an opportunity to reunite with friends, former classmates and roommates. Trevor Sochocki, who received a bachelor’s degree in journalism last year, said he looks forward to picking up where he left off with his friends after moving to Michigan for a job in the broadcast journalism industry.

“I look forward to, over the next couple days, seeing other people and catching up before we all have to leave again,” Sochocki said. “Being in Michigan means that I don’t get to see a lot of college friends in-person very often, if at all, so it’s nice to come back, and I’m very excited for all of the catching up that I have to do.”

After on-campus classes were suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, Sochocki and his friends began holding virtual poker nights to keep in touch with one other, bonded by how the coronavirus pandemic changed their senior year. Sochoki said he looks forward to seeing his friends from the Class of 2021, who will also be participating in the ceremonies, and feeling the nostalgia of being on campus one last time.

“There’s definitely an element to college kind of being the good old days,” Sochoki said. “Never in our lifetimes again will there be a point where we’re all in half a square mile of school, a bunch of people within the same age as us and a bunch of people that are in the same period, the same space of thinking, as well … You don’t get to have a time like college ever again — which is why it’ll be special.”

Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Trevor Sochoki’s name as Trevor Sochocki. The Daily Trojan regrets this error.