This was a day I was told would be one of the happiest days of my life.
This was a day where I wanted to willingly pay for overpriced beer and eat the best garlic fries an American baseball stadium could offer with my friends. It was a day that kept me going when I worked two jobs. A day to celebrate the obstacles my peers and I overcame to when we could finally say, "We did it. We graduated college."
Never in a million years would I have imagined that I would graduate college during a global pandemic. However, graduating during a global pandemic and an economic crisis was one of the worst - and best - things that could have ever happened to me.
I found out on Zoom
It was the first week my campus was testing out Zoom for our classes. I've taken online classes before, but this was the first time I was taking classes that were completely online. I couldn't wait to get back to campus and take classes in person, just like I have done for my entire life. Little did I know that the previous week was the last time I was ever going to take a class at San Francisco State University in person.
Like most people, I was uncertain about the future. At the time, I think we were all processing what was happening. We couldn't believe there was a toilet paper shortage at the store. I stocked up on hand sanitizer from work. Some of us were ahead of the ballgame and already accepted the fact that life was never going to be the same. Others in complete denial, even though COVID-19 was the only thing we were talking about in my classes all semester. Our professors were honest with us and told us that they too even know what the rest of the semester was going to look like. The ripple effects of the pandemic soon started to affect my large, but tight-knit community in San Francisco.
Just as we were doing the annual COVID-19 check-in on one another in my radio and podcasting class, a student unmuted their microphone and said, "They postponed graduation!"
As a graduating senior, there was no way that this was happening.
The rest of class was a blur. I don't remember what we covered that day. I do remember how I felt. I felt like everything was falling apart at the seams. It was the final straw and I broke down.
Earlier that day, I found out that my job was closed until further notice. When they announced commencement was postponed, they also announced classes were moved online for the rest of the semester.
I was angry. Really angry.
This was the day I dreamed about when I took multiple AP and honors classes in high school. A day that kept me going when I worked full-time and was going to school full-time. A day that I wanted my family to celebrate with me, because we all made it.
My mom's side of the family immigrated to the United States for the "American Dream". She graduated college from the Philippines. My dad grew up in America, but he didn't have the same opportunities that I did growing up. He never graduated college, but made a career for himself by going to trade school.
Knowing that my parents have been through hell and back, I've put an insane amount of pressure on myself throughout my entire life. I would never know the true extent of the sacrifices my parents have made for me. I knew that I had to take advantage of every opportunity I stumbled across on, because they never got to do the same. They sacrificed everything for me to be in a position where I was able to go to college. Sure, I didn't have the same privileges as some of my peers. A lot of things in college, like filling out the FAFSA form, was something I had to figure out on my own. However, going to college, but actually finishing it, was a big deal.
With commencement being postponed, it felt like a big slap in the face. My parents worked hard. I worked hard. We don't get to celebrate big occasions that often, because we were all busy working to improve our quality of life.
For a long time, I grappled with the thought of commencement being online. Why now, why me? On social media, it didn't help that people who actually got to graduate college were sharing pictures of themselves graduating, sharing that they knew our pain. They didn't. My friends that were first-generation students would never get to experience a commencement ceremony. What about them? No one but the Class of 2020 would ever know how we truly felt.
Even when the pandemic is over, I'm not sure if I would ever feel comfortable sitting in a packed stadium ever again.
Commencement, but make it online
For the first 15 minutes of the commencement ceremony, I watched it on FaceTime.
The livestream link crashed and I couldn't make it to the opening remarks of my own ceremony, so I had to FaceTime my sister to watch commencement because she was able to access the link. My friends and I spent time trying to figure out how we were supposed to watch the ceremony.
I felt stupid putting on the dress I was supposed to wear to graduation. I hated wearing heels, but this was the one time I wanted to get blisters from wearing heels because it would have meant that I got to graduate at Oracle Park.
I looked around my living room. My grandma was watching the livestream on her iPad. My mom and I were struggling to watch the ceremony on our TV, once we were able to access the livestream link. I started to laugh. Yes, I was drinking a glass of red wine. There was no way anyone could have anticipated that this was happening. I was worried about how I was going to seat my divorced parents together at Oracle, but they ended up watching their daughter graduate college from separate households. One day I was going to have to explain to my future kids how I graduated online.
Looking back at this commencement ceremony, I laugh. I spent my whole life planning for this one moment to happen and it didn't happen the way I expected it to.
A few minutes later, I was told to move my tassel from one side of my cap to the other. I watched my name move up on the screen like they were movie theater credits.
I closed my laptop, called my best friend, and finished my glass of wine. I was 100 percent unsure of what the future was going to look like.
Grappling with the future
I had no intent of applying to graduate school. I didn't have the money and I didn't want to bury myself into any more student debt than I already have accumulated.
Now that I was unemployed, I had all the time in the world. More time than I ever could have wished for. My original plan was to continue to work in San Francisco until I could get a job in the media industry. However, with everything from concerts to sports events being closed, I had no idea how I was going to land an entry-level job in the media industry when everything seemed to be put on pause.
During my time as an undergraduate student, I always wished I didn't work as much as a I did so I could focus more on school. One day, I thought to myself, maybe I should go to graduate school. I have all of the time in the world and everything right now is online anyways. Why not?
I spent months trying to find the right program. Then, I stumbled across Arizona State University. I remembered that one of my professors attended ASU and loved the education she received. After I discovered the Digital Audience Strategy program, I fell in love with what the program had to offer and knew it was the program I could see myself in.
I finally submitted my application and a few weeks later, I found out that I had been accepted.
Do I know that the world will go "back to normal" when the pandemic is (hopefully) over by the time I graduate from my Master's program? No, I don't. No one does.
Am I going to try anyways? Yes.
We can never plan how the future is going to end up. However, even when everything falls apart, you have every right to celebrate the small moments.
You got out of bed today, even when you truly felt like you couldn't? That's a win. You finally went on that walk outside you've been putting off for weeks? That's a win.
You decided to go to graduate school, even though you told yourself you never would because it was "never in the cards" for you?
That's a win.