When I graduated two years ago, my family, relatives, and friends all watched me walk across the stage. When my brother graduated last weekend, I wasn't even allowed on school property. I cheered for him in our living room while watching his ceremony's live stream, but I still couldn't be there for him like I wanted to.
Yet even more importantly, my brother did not get the graduation day that he wanted. Our state is one of the last to reopen after the coronavirus lockdown, so his high-school limited graduation guests to fit the stricter state guidelines. While I'm thankful that his school had an in-person graduation, the ceremony was drastically different. Students, accompanied only by their parents, sat six feet apart. Masks were worn throughout the ceremony. Administrators did not give out any handshakes, and did not allow the traditional cap toss. And new graduates filed to their cars directly after the ceremony.
Coronavirus is not to be taken lightly, and I know that the state officials are trying to protect us by installing rigid regulations. My anger is not towards my government: I'm more upset that coronavirus robbed my brother of the milestone day that he and other graduates deserved. To me, high school graduation marks one of the first major achievements of our lives. Many students undergo significant challenges throughout their high school career, and graduation celebrates victory and perseverance in light of these hardships. Yet a pandemic-graduation communicates fear and uncertainty instead. Not exactly the feelings you want to experience just after having survived your high school career.
I know those negative feelings weren't nearly as present at my graduation. Granted, judging from the fact that we cycled over to a bar to celebrate our results with our teachers, my European graduation differed a lot from the typical American experience. Yet I still have fond memories of my extended family flying over from America to celebrate with us; of wearing a Goodwill upcycled prom dress to walk across the stage; of giving hugs to classmates I've known since kindergarten. When I walked across the stage, nine family members stood up in their rows and cheered; but when my brother did, my extended family and I celebrated in our living rooms while watching the livestream. After my ceremony, my family and I went into the city to take pictures and eat at a Greek restaurant; after my brother's ceremony, he rushed home to take pictures in our back garden and only had his girlfriend over for takeout Chic-Fil-A. When I received an award, I grinned and shook my teacher's hand on stage; when my brother graduated summa cum laude, he only stood up in his row, his expression covered with a mask. It just doesn't seem fair.
Even while I'm upset for him, I trust that his ceremony does not define his high-school career. I know my brother would have loved a facemask-free day to celebrate with classmates and family, but one day does not minimize his accomplishments. After all, he still survived four years of high school (and passed with flying colors). And while the circumstances were not ideal, he still had a day of celebration. He still walked across the stage, spent time with friends and family, and ate his favorite meal and ice cream. And even though many of his friends and family couldn't be there in person, they still supported him from a distance. In short, my brother never anticipated or wanted this - but he enjoyed what he could.
To all 2020 graduates - you will have your moment. I'm saddened by how your year ended, but I believe that there will come days where you can fully celebrate your victory. And I hope that your family and friends will be there to celebrate with you in person, and not over a livestream.