Today I Graduated Into An Uncertain World

Today I will drink Prosecco, take pictures in my cap and gown, talk to many wonderful people in my life, and eat my favourite food. Still, on this graduation day, I feel hollow. 

Margaret Valenti throwing her cap in the air at her home for Gettysburg College’s virtual commencement

The symphony of congratulations for the 2020 graduates around the world are not just for us, they are for all those who made those countless individual journeys through spaces of learning and education possible: facilities workers, dining service employees, student employees, professors, teachers, friends, family, doctors, nurses, therapists, and so many more. As many already stated, there is an added challenge on the path to graduation all around the world this year, COVID-19. For many, the path to graduation under these circumstances became extremely difficult, for others the will to finish final papers or study for final exams became non-existent. Still, we got the best commencement speakers of any graduating class: The Obamas, Oprah, The Clintons, Tom Hanks, LeBron James, Lady Gaga, Malala Yousafzai, Jimmy Fallon, Halsey, John Legend, Kesha, Pitbull, Awkwafina, Jennifer Garner, Lil Nas X, Simone Biles, John Cena, Scott Kelly, DJ Khaled, and others including CEOS, Founders, reporters, etc.

Now, we graduate into an uncertain world. We become a part of this world, truly adults, as economies around the world face collapse, and finding steady employment in the foreseeable future will be difficult. No one knows what is going to happen and facing the unknown is the great fear humanity struggles with. Still, we leapt over the first hurdle; we graduated, and for now, that is enough.

Reflecting On My Journey

Margert Valenti, Gettysburg College’s virtual commencement,  May 17th, 2020

I remember being a senior in high school and having to decide where I would end up pursuing my four-year degree. As I made the final decision, I chose the place I would feel most at home, the place that felt like college to me, and a place where I could fit in. That place ended up being Gettysburg College, a four-year liberal arts college in southeastern Pennsylvania and a relatively conservative space compared to most other colleges and universities in the U.S.; it is common to see confederate flags when driving around town, a problematic tribute to The Battle of Gettysburg and the subsequent Gettysburg Address delivered by Abraham Lincoln. Whenever I ask people what drove them to Gettysburg College, whenever I ask myself, they can never come up with a coherent answer; “I don’t know” is the most common one. There is something about the pace of the day being something unique for everyone, no two people at Gettysburg College will follow the exact same path, usually. 

I think that is what drove me there, the sense that I did not have to fit into one space or any space for that matter. There was no absolute need to join a sorority, though they are popular on campus, and no need to join clubs or political groups or sports teams or go to events outside of what was mandatory to pass a class. All I had to do was try, to taste a sample of everything, and accept any assistance I felt comfortable with, that the college had to offer, and then decide from there what my path would be.

Still, I had an incredibly hard time adjusting. I was unsure about everything from my choice of friends to my own abilities as a student; it took until my junior year for me to consistently see A’s on my transcript and become confident in my choices. I got a D+ in microeconomics even though I sat in the front of the class, took notes, and studied for every test (my mother and sister insisted I take at least one economics course in college). I made so many mistakes; some were ignorant, some were absent-minded, and others I chose to make.

To say I do not regret any of them would be a lie that so many people tell; of course, I regret some aspects of my time at college. I look back and see where I could do better, what I would change, cringe at how I reacted to certain situations, and wonder at the possibilities I missed out on that I will never be a part of again. There was the advice I received that I wish I took more to heart, help I turned away when I could have really used it, and people I hurt that I wish I did not. Other aspects of my college life I cannot explain, things that happened perhaps through no fault of my own or anyone else’s; my falling out with those I considered friends, my inability to connect with certain professors, when I tried my best and still did not succeed, and of course COVID-19. Both can be true, I can admit I made mistakes and also wonder why things specifically turned out the way they did.

That last one threw me, all of us, off course, and changed the trajectory of where my college career would end up. Though I am lucky, some students like my younger sister had to rush home from abroad, others had to take the rest of the semester off due to financial or familial obligations, some were forced off-campus and into impossible, unimaginable situations, and many struggled to cope with the surprisingly unique pressures of remote learning. Still, many of us, the graduating class of 2020 around the world, succeeded through the incredible efforts of our families, friends, and especially our teachers and professors who stepped up to accommodate our needs.

In The End, I Am Hollow

A student writing on a chalk board in a study room of the Science Center on Gettysburg College’s campus. It reads “Life is a party and we’re all just piñatas.”

Still, on this graduation day, I feel hollow. It is hard for me to be thankful for what my parents are doing, throwing a small family celebration for me on a beautiful day. Tears fall from their eyes and they get all sentimental, but I feel like today is any other day. The virtual commencement we got was lovely, despite the unusual circumstances, but I am not happy or sad about ending my college career today. Gettysburg, like many other colleges, will host a physical commencement ceremony hopefully next semester. The college promised us that at some point we will get an actual commencement ceremony, but I have my doubts about the feasibility of that in this new world we live in. I am trying to save my energy for that possibility, even if it is slim. Today I will drink Prosecco, take pictures in my cap and gown, talk to many wonderful people in my life, and eat my favorite food. I am lucky to be able to do that, but it is hard to feel happy right now — especially when you live near the epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S., where two hundred people still die per day. 

It is hard to be grateful when over eighty thousand people are dead in the U.S. and countless more Americans have to bury loved ones. Amid this pandemic, racist attacks occur daily with the senseless violence against Asian communities across the globe. Black men and women are still being murdered in the U.S. for jogging down the street (Ahmaud Aubrey) or sleeping in their beds (Breonna Taylor). Trans women are still being murdered across the U.S., it just does not stop. It seems that senseless hate does not end because a pandemic starts, that cruelty must persevere even when this is the moment we need to come together. I barely watch the news anymore, it might overwhelm me. 

While graduation is a meaningful distraction from the pressures of reality and uncertainty, some of us sit in an ivory castle while many are suffering. So, today’s graduation, what many say is a shining moment in their lives, is feelingless for me. I cannot find it within myself to be happy today, or sad. It is just another beautiful day, clear skies with a light breeze as I sit outside writing this, unable to produce something positive. What I hope for the rest of my fellow graduates is that you found meaning in your virtual graduations where I could not. Instead of perhaps lamenting on the state of the world, you are wondering how you can help now and what you can do for our world beyond the scope of the virus (though I am lamenting, those thoughts are on my mind as well). Take the knowledge we were blessed to gain through our journeys and turn them to action. 

Many say we will be the generation that finally looks beyond the past and transitions the world away from the old ways of thinking, so when the next pandemic comes we will be ready to face it and whatever challenges lie ahead we will have the tools and the mindset to fix them. To those who still have journeys to complete, we will survive this, into an uncertain future, and we can make it better; that is what we should be proud of. 

Congratulations on the graduations of 2020 seniors and to all who made our success possible!

 

 


 

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