Graduating during a Pandemic

Pitambara Somani

how do you say goodbye to the best years of your life 

Letting go of a relationship, object, or phase of life which was once important is extremely difficult. Closure or a final goodbye becomes crucial to this process. It provides an opportunity to come to terms with the entirety of the experience with satisfaction and understanding. When a pandemic abruptly ended the university experience for final year students, they began a new search for closure. 

Everyone has a complicated relationship with education and the space provided by its institutions. Throughout the four years there are moments where you wonder, is it worth all the sacrifice, time, and energy? From leaving your home for the first time, flying to a new city or continent, taking on debt, being thrown into the deep end to find a new ‘life’, or learning how to truly be responsible for yourself for the first time. In the beginning, the idea of a clean slate and the buzz of new opportunities, of finding community, learning, and honing interests counters the fears. 

The newness of life is scary, but also exciting. While crossing this threshold as an 18-year-old, you cannot predict the person who will leave at the end of four years. In that span, you understand diversity: of people, of thought, of culture, and your being. You learn more about who you are through this process. How can you then give this time its due? What kind of goodbye would be appropriate? How do you get closure?

“A final coffee at your favourite coffee shop, a picture of your final dissertation to post on Instagram, and a final goodbye to your college lover”

It’s true, the chapter was coming to a close anyway for final year students this year (if all goes well). Goodbyes to friends and professors would have been said. Cars loaded with memories and stuffed suitcases would have driven away from student residences for the last time. A final sentence would have been written during the last exam in cold musty halls. A final session of lying on college grounds with pints in hand, reminiscing days filled with laughter, love, (and tears) would take place for the last time as a student. A final coffee at your favourite coffee shop, a picture of your final dissertation to post on Instagram, and a final goodbye to your college lover, the list goes on.

“uncertain and rushed goodbyes were made to friends whom you could not hug”

Each of these presented a valiant attempt at closure. For generations, students used this as a way to signal to the mind and heart that it was time for the next chapter. 

But this year, uncertain and rushed goodbyes were made to friends whom you could not hug. Cars were hurriedly packed, and airplanes carried students wearing masks and gloves to places of origin with no promise of return. The final sentence on the last exam was written in a room alone and submitted unceremoniously online. The final session with friends over zoom left you wondering what you would be doing if you were together.

“Although the joy of ‘making it’  was undeniable, there was no time to process the end, as you needed to focus on ‘making it’ through a much bigger challenge, the pandemic”

Although the joy of ‘making it’  was undeniable, there was no time to process the end, as you needed to focus on ‘making it’ through a much bigger challenge, the pandemic. Scattered all over the globe, away from the physical space where all those years were spent, away from the community that formed the ‘experience’, the feeling of graduating to the next phase felt grossly incomplete. 

The fact that no one is to blame makes this loss more severe. No one is responsible for universities closing, for classes moving online, for graduations taking place over zoom. We all lost out. This makes it feel ‘wrong’ to consider this a loss. It makes it harder to direct feelings and understand them. The gravity of the situation makes graduation seem trivial. And it is, especially when the wider situation is about survival. However, it is okay to feel and acknowledge this pain. More importantly, it should not take away from the pride that graduating students feel on completing their degrees over the gruelling years. 

“Even though the end was not ceremonious, your greatest asset is your lived years at university and who you have become today”

These are some raw ramblings of a final goodbye. An attempt to process the end; and to honor it within its current context. Even though the end was not ceremonious, your greatest asset is your lived years at university and who you have become today. So you honour this progress. You already have the next challenge ahead. So again, you jump into the deep end to settle into a new ‘normal’. You insert yourselves into spaces where you can be useful to your community and you create. There is no need to put a full stop. The legacy of who you are today and what you create going forward will be your greatest closure. 

Pitambara is a History and Politics graduate from Trinity College Dublin, she is a climate activist and is working on new ways to serve and create.

Design by Hemashri Dhavala