This May, Tufts is holding an in-person ceremony celebrating the deserving students of the Class of 2022. We are also celebrating the students of the Class of 2020, whose college experience was unceremoniously cut short by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. While it is undeniable that these students missed out on the communal rituals that signal the end of an undergraduate education, it is also important to acknowledge the similar experience of the Class of 2021.
Last year’s graduating class was not forced to leave in the middle of their spring semester, however, it is undeniable that their final year was nowhere near normal. It was a year that can be summarized by one word: virtual. Even for the many students that came to campus, most classes, clubs and groups were experienced only on Zoom. Commencement and Senior Week were no different. As Chris Duyos explained in a recent op-ed published in the Daily, last year’s seniors were filmed walking across the stage weeks before finals, watching the commencement video in May in small groups at home or in off-campus apartments. This starkly contrasts with the celebration of collective achievement that graduations are meant to be.
As Duyos said, it was “no replacement for a real graduation.” In a way, I can also personally relate to this experience. As a member of the Class of 2024, my high school graduation was conducted in a similar way. I walked across the stage in my cap and gown, receiving no diploma, with only my family and my friend — who scheduled her walk right after mine — in attendance. Weeks later, we watched the video together on a TV my dad set up in my backyard. The experience of closure and joy with peers, teachers and family that graduation activities are meant to bring were conspicuously absent.
In an email to the Daily, Phoebe Sargeant shared her feelings on the topic, writing “I am grateful that Tufts still let us walk, but watching my colleagues from high school get a ‘normal’ graduation really emphasized what was stripped from the class of 2021.” While safety is of the utmost importance, many other schools in the area successfully pulled off graduations that were COVID-safe while also resembling community celebrations.
For example, Boston University held an in-person commencement for the Class of 2021. Advanced and bachelor’s degrees were split into two separate ceremonies held on the field, graduates were socially distanced, and — though family and friends could not attend in person — students were able to receive their diplomas with their peers and celebrate their shared triumph. Northeastern students had a similarly beautiful, socially distanced ceremony at Fenway Park with friends and family both online and in the stands. Harvard and MIT, who did not hold fully in-person commencements last year, are each holding an in-person celebration for the Class of 2021 alongside the Class of 2020 this May.
It is clear that the Tufts Class of 2021 did not find a sense of closure and celebration, nor did they have the chance to say goodbye to four years of their life with last year’s live-streamed commencement. Still, there are mixed feelings on what Tufts should do now. In his op-ed, Duyos stated, “The Tufts administration can and should give us an in-person graduation,” calling for a re-do similar to the one being held for the Class of 2020 this year. Conversely, Sargeant wrote that a redo graduation would not “change the animosity [she holds] towards Tufts and the global situation,” explaining that she would likely decline to attend an in-person graduation if it was offered next year, accepting that it is “all in the past.”
Ultimately, Tufts should hold an in-person commencement ceremony for the Class of 2021. Regardless of whether every student decides to attend, it will give this class that lost so much of their senior experience a chance to celebrate their achievements and the journey they completed together.