Graduating from Virginia Tech is an accomplishment that evokes joy, celebration and cherished memories. It's walking on stage, seeing your name on an extremely valuable piece of paper and throwing your creatively decorated cap wildly into the air encompassing Lane Stadium that makes graduation so special.
However, if you decided to chuck your graduation cap in the air this spring, it might have made a dent in your parent’s living room ceiling and thumped your little brother in the head.
A new world, only navigable via hand sanitizer. It’s life, in a way –– there’s ups and downs, to say the least, and in the spring of 2020, college seniors at Virginia Tech graduated on the internet.
“It was okay; not what I was expecting, and it was still very difficult emotionally,” said Jacquie Cohen, now a Hokie alumna with a degree in hospitality and tourism management.
Clearly, many students across the board did not expect this to happen, while adjusting to our new reality.
“It was strange and exciting at the same time,” said Kulneet Singh, a newly graduated senior with a computer engineering degree. “Here I am after four years of a hard-earned education celebrating, but I am not allowed to be with my friends, family or fellow classmates walking the stage as I imagined it as a freshman.”
Due to the circumstances, many seniors felt that a large part of their long-anticipated celebration was stolen from them, as the COVID-19 situation has furloughed plans for just about everyone at this point.
“I have mixed feelings about the whole thing because I feel so robbed,” Cohen said. “I understand the circumstances and have accepted that this is how it is, but it’s still very difficult to deal with.”
For Cohen and likely many others who planned a large celebration involving friends and proud loved ones, graduating college online is something that will always hold a dark spot in their highlight reel.
“It was extremely sad and disappointing, and I honestly will just try to forget about it,” Cohen said. “Looking back on it 10 years from now, it will still make me sad that my family didn’t get that day they were dreaming for; especially my grandmother.”
Since an online commencement with recorded and edited public speakers would have considerable detrimental effects on graduating seniors, one might wonder if this was the only option, even with the current circumstances.
“I understand the reason why they moved the commencement ceremony online, but I am a bit disappointed at the university for not delaying it to another date after this COVID-19 stuff clears up,” Singh said.
For some, the online ceremony was a great opportunity to show the levels in which Virginia Tech tried to be thoughtful given the situation.
“They played clips of friends and family congratulating everyone, and I thought it was a great display of how prideful and supportive Hokie Nation truly is,” said Patrick Marcinko, a senior with a new degree in finance. “I thought that Virginia Tech did a great job of making it a special experience … and it made me proud to be a Hokie.”
Regardless of the disappointment, anger and uncertainty facing the situation as a whole, these members of the newly minted class of 2020 found themselves thankful and made the best of a bad situation, finding ways to enjoy their graduation.
“I was glad that I had my boyfriend to celebrate with,” Cohen said. “My mom drove down (from New York to Blacksburg) to surprise me.”
Although Singh wasn’t able to be around the good friends he made throughout his college career, he is thankful that he got to spend graduation with his family at home.
“Family members are the ones who matter most,” Singh said. “When my name was called out, we cheered very loud as if someone was there listening. We later had a bonfire, a cookout and popped a bottle of champagne. Overall, it was a good experience, but it cannot take the place of what it could've been.”
Even from a computer screen, graduation was welcomed with high emotions and reminiscent attitudes.
“Mainly, I was overwhelmed with joy, reflecting on all the great memories and friendships I've made over the past four years,” Marcinko said.
Although they have just graduated, these seniors already feel nostalgic about their time spent at Virginia Tech.
“I had a blast,” Singh said. “I learned skills that I will use for the rest of my life and I made some of my best friends that I will keep for life. It was a bit sad what happened at the end, but that won't take my cherished memories from the past four years away. I feel very accomplished and proud of myself; I look back on my time at Tech and realize the hard work and dedication that it took to get to this point was all definitely worth it.”
Even with the current situation, they would do it all again.
“Virginia Tech is like no other place on Earth, and I would come here and do it all over again if asked,” Cohen said.
For these few members of the thousands-strong class of 2020, the COVID-19 situation was a setback filled with disappointment, but like many, they plan on taking two steps forward every time from now on.