Many people can’t recall who delivered the commencement address at their college graduation — much less what was said.
My nieces shouldn’t have that problem because their father was their commencement speaker.
Because of the coronavirus, their “graduation” from Howard University was an intimate affair organized by their parents and held on their front lawn Saturday. Besides the two of them, the only other graduate at their ceremony was a cousin, a 2020 graduate from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.
“Pomp and Circumstance” blared over a loudspeaker as they marched around the perimeter of the property. They wore traditional caps and gowns but had their faces partially covered by surgical masks.
Since the coronavirus is spread during close contact, they sat on chairs placed six feet apart as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Their father, a cardiologist, instructed them to keep their noses and mouths covered before the conferring of diplomas. Speeches were short, including a moving convocation delivered by their aunt. Onlookers remained in their parked cars.
It was over very quickly.
Watching via cellphone video, I cried.
Like many colleges, Howard University postponed its formal commencement exercises until 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
We were hit doubly hard because we had not one but two recent graduates who had planned to participate. Their parents are Howard grads. I graduated from the historically black college as well. We had been looking forward to seeing these young women take the same long walk we all had.
But it wasn’t to be.
So we readjusted. Just as parents and school administrators everywhere have organized parades and Zoom video conferences to honor 2020 graduates, my sister put together her own celebration.
Sis did a good job, although in hindsight she wishes she had set up a full-size stage and lectern like the one a father created in Tennessee for his daughter after she became upset about not walking for her graduation from Xavier University.
He did everything he could to mimic a traditional setup.
I remember my own graduation and my excitement at being called up to accept an award from the dean of my school. I carried that plaque in my arms proudly as I strolled back across campus afterward while still dressed in my cap and gown. A few weeks later, I drove to Texas to start a reporting internship at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. My life pretty much took off from there.
These are much more uncertain times than back then. My nieces, who are a year apart in age, have been quarantining at home with their parents for months now, with no real end in sight. Like other 2020 graduates, they are anxious to start their careers, but their home state of Ohio has only begun the reopening process.
It’s still uncertain what life will look like on the other side of this pandemic. Nor do we know what kind of opportunities will await them.
I hope this experience is a reminder to them and the other 2020 graduates about the mercurial nature of life and the need to stay ready to adjust. Technology will be their friend.
This experience, more than anything, can also teach them that even while dealing with difficult circumstances like this public health crisis, they need to make a point of seeking out happy moments like what they experienced Saturday. Joy can exist even during a global pandemic. So seek it out.
“I thought it was much better than it could have possibly been,” one niece told me after her ceremony. “Only the people I really cared about were there.”
“I feel totally fulfilled," she added.
Unless they decide to continue on to graduate school, these young women may never participate in another actual graduation ceremony.