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Robert Hunter / Staff Illustrator

Senior spring was never supposed to be like this. I had 14 experiences left on my senior bucket list, like dining at a professor’s home, modeling nude for an art class, and sneaking onto the roof of Mudd Hall to watch the sunrise. And then there’s Commencement. I would have walked proudly across a stage to receive my diploma: Jordan Allyn, Barnard College of Columbia University, class of 2020, majoring in american studies with a concentration in visual and performing arts.

I always envisioned the classic graduation ceremony. Everyone in caps and gowns. An eloquent celebrity delivering a clichéd, yet surprisingly inspiring, keynote address. Thousands of people packed together watching young people shake hands with adults in their 60s. Talk about the opposite of social distancing.

My new ceremonies consist mostly of washing my hands while singing “Happy Birthday” twice, even though my cousin’s 12th birthday party was canceled a few days ago. Zoom will replace grand, neoclassical libraries for the rest of the semester. Our dorms no longer want us. The futures of my tap dancing rehearsals and environmental activist projects look grim. Seniors often feared the question, “what are you doing next year?” Now, dreading moving back to her hometown, my roommate asked her parents over the phone, “What am I going to do for the next two months?”

In the midst of all of this chaos, a friend invited me to a Facebook event titled “DIY graduation” set for March 14. I teared up reading the description: “College has been cool ... guess it’s uhhh over :/ WE SAY HELL NO TO THIS ANTICLIMAX, LET’S GO OUT WITH A BANG!!!! come eat drink and laugh in central park, gain some much needed closure, and don't let your friends slowly fade away! for anyone who comes, we will say ur name & clap for you bc apparently no one else will lmao.”

I am incredibly lucky for many reasons, one being that my family lives in my college town. After a debate with my mom over the relative merits of fancy and casual clothing, we decided that even a fake graduation counts as a special occasion, so fancy seemed like the best bet. Both of my parents joined me as I got my cap and gown from the bookstore and journeyed to the Great Hill in Central Park. Scores of students, some in baby blue regalia and some not, gathered to celebrate our premature graduation (with hand sanitizer at the ready). Capitalizing on the unseasonably warm day, we posed for pictures in front of still-barren trees.

My parents scolded me and my friends for touching each other too much. It drove me crazy, but I think they would have been just as embarrassing at a traditional graduation, so I appreciated the consistency.

The seniors lined up in an academic procession. Without a dean to announce each graduate, we learned the name and major of the person standing in front of us. Whether that person was a best friend or a new face, we introduced them to the entire crowd and cheered for them as loudly as possible. My dad filmed each person’s moment in the spotlight. After every name had been called, we threw our caps in the air as high as we could, just like in the movies and every other graduation ever. Afterward, my friends and I ate lunch together in a restaurant at 50 percent capacity and toasted to the most bittersweet send-off ever.

My friend once told me that I’m always nostalgic for the present. She’s not wrong. In high school, I wistfully watched moments as though they were scenes from John Hughes movies. For my high school senior thesis, I wrote and produced a play that was a not-so-subtle metaphor for the pain of saying goodbye to adolescence. But so many of those classic high school moments ended up being disappointing––especially my high school graduation. Just like birthdays and New Year’s Eve parties, graduations never live up to the hype. Our DIY celebration, however, exceeded all of my expectations. It was an impromptu and unprecedented event rather than an overrated symbolic culmination. With the future profoundly hazy, there was no time for nostalgia. My only focus was correctly pronouncing the last name of the person in front of me.

My mom’s friend didn’t go to a professor’s home until she was 59. I don’t really know if I need to stand still for an hour while my naked body shakes and sweats in front of a group of artistic strangers. And I’m pretty sure roofs and sunrises will exist far after they discover a vaccination. Going to an intimate premature DIY graduation––now that’s something to cross off of a bucket list.

The class of 2020 started college the year that Trump was elected. Now, we are entering a job market that pundits predict will be worse than the 1987 recession. Despite these surreal bookends, we have hope. If we aren’t given a graduation, then for goodness sake, we’ll make our own.

Jennifer Allyn

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