Sunday, May 23, 2021
Closure. I think that is what I felt today. Well, at least partly. I felt a lot of things helping out at today’s JCU graduation ceremony for the class of 2021. “All the feels”, as the cool kids say.
I volunteered to help the Career Center staff encourage graduates to scan the QR code and take the “where are you going now” survey as they gathered this morning to robe up and get ready to have their final special event at their school before going off in many directions to start the next chapter in life. I put on a dress, even make-up, including lipstick, and left my mask in my purse. As of Wednesday of this week we got the message that vaccinated folks could move about the campus mask-less if we felt comfortable. In addition I had not been on campus for over a week as I had vacation time due to family being in town. I was very ready for people! I arrived to campus and as soon as I started seeing staff that I knew started hugging them. Yes I missed them during my vacation, but more than that I missed them during this past year!! I didn’t realize how much energy it takes to stay away from people, keep them at an arms length and try to communicate through masks and socially distanced. So much energy. Today I felt like I got all that energy back and more from my interaction with people. The extrovert in me that had been squashed down for the last 12 months was set free and it felt amazing!
I got to my volunteer station with my colleague and almost immediately ran into students that I knew. So many hugs and so many selfies. It felt SO good to see their faces and give them heartfelt congratulations in person after so much Zoom. It was especially meaningful to see student leaders from my former position in student engagement. We had such an abrupt ending last March when they were all sent home plus I had no idea I would get a new job while working remote at home. We weren’t able to do the traditional end of the year dinner where we celebrate the accomplishments of the year or even say goodbye in person when I learned I was transitioning to a new role at Carroll. Our goodbyes, for the most part, were limited to the same old familiar Brady Bunch Zoom squares we had all gotten accustomed to. I did get a sweet in person visit with gifts from my two fave leaders on my first day of my new job in August which I will be forever grateful for.
I have seen students in person here and there over the spring semester, but never more than one or two at a time and usually outside.
Today was so different. Not only was pretty much everyone unmasked, but there were throngs of people everywhere! I was not fearful at all like I thought I might be. No, I found myself just so full of joy that I could not stop smiling at all of these wonderful young people who had persevered through such a tough year and made it! I felt proud, relieved, happy and just grateful to be able to share in this special moment.
Truth be told in all my 17 years at JCU I’ve only gone to graduation one other time and that was at the Wolstein Center where we were told we had to help because of the combined commencement and reunion weekends due to the 125th anniversary of the university. Usually by the time commencement rolls around I am just done with events, including senior week, and looking forward to NOT being around. I am so glad I was there today, however. I saw commencement from a fresh perspective this year and am so glad I could witness it.
In some ways I think today’s ceremony symbolized a new beginning for us all. Here’s hoping we can shed our masks and isolation for good. Here’s hoping we can be who we truly are and reach out when we need help, especially for our mental health. Here’s hoping the terms “social distance” and “unprecedented times” get retired and our masks and sanitizer get tucked away in a drawer. Okay, maybe keep the hand sanitizer around.
I want to acknowledge that in many parts of the US and the world, this is not over yet. I also want to acknowledge the enormous toll and deep impact that Covid has taken on the loss of life, employment, businesses and so many other ways known and unknown. I think it is important to always remember this!
However we must move forward in the ways that we can. I encourage each of us to stop before jumping fully back into our crazy, busy lives. Take stock and think about what lessons you need to learn from this experience. We are all different and there are no right or wrong lessons here. Hopefully this will make us more appreciative of each other and the simpler things in life. Like hugs and smiles. Congratulations JCU class of 2021! You made it!