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Graduating in the time of coronavirus: “Anticlimactic, frustrating, bittersweet”

We heard from an international student who was unable to attend her graduation ceremony because of the global pandemic. She shares the highs and lows of graduating in lockdown.

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Let’s face it, graduating during the time of a global pandemic isn’t ideal. I’m sure you were looking forward to celebrating this momentous occasion with your friends and family, in addition to throwing your graduation hat up in the air to signify the end of your degree.  

 

Unfortunately, to keep people safe and healthy, many universities have had to cancel or postpone their traditional graduation ceremonies. However, students all around the world have been making the best of the situation with admirable resilience and humour. We spoke to one such student who shares her experience of graduating during the coronavirus lockdown.

 

Recently qualified, Dr Lottie Wilson, 25, studied medicine at the University of Limerick in Ireland for four years but was unable to attend her graduation because of coronavirus. She said, “On the 16th of March the school sent out an email saying our final exams were all going to be brought forward by three weeks and would all be online which effectively ended our time at medical school.” She added, “Like the rest of the world, there was so much uncertainty at the time and no one seemed to know what was going on. We were finally told that we would be graduating ‘in absentia’ on the 27th April.”

With so much uncertainty, students are having to adjust to the news that they may not have a graduation after years of hard work and dedication. Lottie remarked, “The whole experience was mostly frustrating and bittersweet, overall just very surreal. I was definitely also somewhat disappointed. It would have been a great celebration of becoming a doctor after so many years and my family had already made plans for my graduation like booking accommodation and travel, even my grandmother had her flights booked!”

 

So, in times like these, how do you commemorate the effort and work that you’ve put into getting a degree? Lottie offered some insight saying, “On the day of the last online exam, which was number 11, I was more exhausted than anything else. It was very anticlimactic finishing the exam, exiting the online exam programme and just sitting at my desk in my bedroom, where I had spent every single moment of every day for the last month or so.”

 

She continued, “On results day lots of people had rented caps and gowns to wear on the day and to take pictures at home with their families. Ordering these before the results were out felt way too much like tempting fate for me. So, in the week between exams and results, I made myself a mortarboard from a box and had the full intention of destroying it if I didn't pass. Fortunately, I didn't need to destroy it.”

 

During the pandemic, many of us can relate to spending more time online, either speaking to friends and family, working or attending virtual lectures. At a time when many of us are unable to see people face-to-face, being connected online has provided people with some relief to feelings of isolation.

 

 

Lottie explained that this was also true for her as she reached out to friends and family when she received the good news about passing her degree, saying, “My social media was exploding with everyone’s pictures and videos of them celebrating and I was no different. I did my own ‘official’ graduation portrait to post on every social media platform I had. I was genuinely really proud of myself and seeing as I had no one around to share it with in real life, I figured I might as well share it online.”

 

With the strain that the coronavirus has placed on higher education, Lottie relayed that she wasn’t angry with the university as she understood they were put in a difficult position. However, she shares the impact that this has had on her future plans.

 

“In the next two weeks I’m going to be starting work as a new doctor in a brand-new hospital in the middle of a global pandemic. In another life, I would be in Australia and Thailand right now, enjoying the month off between exams and graduation, then I would be celebrating my formal graduation in Limerick with my family,” she said.

 

“This coronavirus crisis is beyond anything I certainly ever anticipated, and it feels wrong to complain when its impact on the entire world is so much bigger than me or my class. The only thing you can do, I guess is exactly what everyone else is doing and has been doing for months now, which is accept the losses and adapt to the new normal”, Lottie notes.

 

While not having a graduation ceremony will be upsetting for lots of students, Lottie’s experience shows that there are ways to make the best of a bad situation. Lottie’s advice is to make sure that you celebrate your success in your own way. It’s always important to acknowledge what you have achieved.

 

Lottie gave her final thoughts remarking, “I think finding forms of unconventional joy has been a brilliant unexpected side effect of this pandemic and this was certainly true for me throughout all the stages of my non-graduation.”

 

Concerned about how coronavirus will impact your study plans? Get more advice on navigating your way through the pandemic.