Why I’m Actually Happy My Graduation Was All Virtual

I've had a real graduation and a virtual one, and I have to say, my virtual celebration was pretty amazing!

My first college graduation—I got a Bachelor’s degree in psychology from Clemson University in 2018—was pretty amazing. It was indoors, and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott gave a great speech. My family all came from California, and we rented a lake house and a boat, celebrating my graduation for the whole weekend. Then back home, my mom hosted a brunch for all my friends and relatives there. It was a big party full of fun and loved ones, and I have a ton of treasured memories from the experience.

That was going to be hard to top, but I was going to try to make my May graduation from the University of Southern California (USC) just as memorable. Earning my Master’s degree in communications management was a huge accomplishment, and I couldn’t wait to share it with my family and friends.

Then the coronavirus pandemic hit

On March 4, California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency, and everyone was advised to shelter in place at home. So not only would I not be having a giant party to celebrate, but I wasn’t sure if I’d be having any graduation at all. Public events all over the country were being canceled, including graduation ceremonies. I remember looking at the graduation calendar event scheduled on my phone and thinking I should just delete it, but I didn’t have the heart to do it.

So when USC announced they were going to do a virtual graduation ceremony, it was a pleasant surprise. I knew it was in everyone’s best interest to stay home and stay healthy, and this seemed like a good compromise. Sure, I was a little disappointed at first, but I was just glad it wasn’t postponed or canceled.

However, I started getting really excited about my virtual graduation when I began receiving emails from USC hyping up all the activities they had planned. They had created a special online portal just for the graduation and had all kinds of virtual things to keep us entertained and involved. I decided to take the day off from work (something I almost never do) and fully embrace the day as my “real” graduation.

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Commencement in complete comfort

class of 2020 virtual graduationCourtesy Kelley ClinkenbeardOn the morning of May 15, I woke up early, did my hair and makeup, put on my favorite USC sweatshirt, and sat back on the couch with snacks and a mimosa. That’s when I realized there were some real perks to my virtual graduation: no hot robes, no sitting on hard seats, and no walking for miles in high heels. I got to graduate in peak comfort! Plus, I wasn’t old enough to drink at my first graduation, so being able to relax with a champagne cocktail made it feel like more of a party already.

I logged onto the site for the opening school-wide ceremony. No worries about parking! No stuffy arena! There was a countdown clock that exploded into confetti when it started at 9 a.m. They played a video slideshow of campus photos, sort of like a mini yearbook. Then, the university president came on the screen to congratulate everyone on graduating. As she gave her speech, she was interrupted by Will Ferrell, who gave a hilarious short speech. That’s right—Will Ferrell spoke at my graduation! Then we had the option to watch video messages from celebrities, family members, and professors. I watched them in between ceremonies. It was cool to have the option to just watch the things I wanted rather than having to sit through a bunch of talks that didn’t pertain to me.

After the first ceremony ended, I navigated to the page for my specific school, the Annenberg School of Communication, for the second ceremony. No having to go to another venue! No worries about the weather! No concerns about not being able to hear or see the stage! The Annenberg dean and two communications professors were there virtually and gave speeches. There was a special musical performance from a violinist and then a Q&A session with a renowned film producer.

We’ll always have the “coronavirus graduate” bond

Then there was a third virtual ceremony, just for my classmates and I, held via Zoom. The school had mailed us our caps, gowns, and hoods, so I put those on at this point. My mom decorated the couch with balloons. It was the most informal of all of the ceremonies, but it also the most meaningful because I got to connect with all of my classmates and professors again. We shared memories and texted one another during the Zoom, creating a more intimate experience than we likely would have had if we’d been in the more formal setting of a “real” in-person graduation. The strangeness of graduating during a pandemic has also bonded us together in a unique and powerful way, and I love that I got to share this with them. Another “bonus” of quarantine for some people has been finding new hobbies they’ll never give up.

Overall, my virtual graduation didn’t feel like a sad replacement. It felt fun and exciting—even better in some ways than the in-person one I had before a couple of years ago. Not only was it fun and memorable, but now I’ve also got a great story to tell. The important thing is that I graduated. Plus, we all had a glorious time celebrating—and everyone stayed safe!

For more on the pandemic, including how people are adjusting to the new normal, see our comprehensive Coronavirus Guide.

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