COVID-19 is not the Senior Send-Off We Deserve

OpinionStaff Op-EdStudent Life

An illustration of polaroids of graduating students.
Kristina Stahl/The Triton

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Only a couple of weeks ago, I was excited by the potential of my last spring quarter at UC San Diego. After spending all of Winter Quarter 2020 studying for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), I was finally ready to actually enjoy college. There is still so much I haven’t done that I desperately wanted to do during these final weeks with my friends: hike Potato Chip Rock, go on a grunion run, explore San Diego—hell, even go to the beach more than my previous once-per-quarter goal.

Looking at this bucket list now, I can’t help but feel disappointed. COVID-19 has robbed seniors all over the world of celebrating their last few weeks in college and cut out an important transitional moment in our lives. Post-graduate life is often fraught with worry: we have to find jobs, make new friends, and begin to find a new identity―one that is not just “student.” Spring quarter is a time to find closure as we reflect on the relationships we have had and let it sink in that college, probably one of the most exciting times of our lives, is over. However, with COVID-19 moving all of Spring Quarter 2020 online and bringing the uncertain, but seemingly imminent national lockdown, I can’t be sure if I’ve already seen some friends for the last time.

Spring quarter in particular has many events that seniors have been looking forward to all year. Our last Sun God Festival and Muir Musical events are officially gone and many students can’t spend their last weeks celebrating their time with the club or Greek families which have defined their college experience. While UCSD has not yet officially cancelled commencement, traditionally graduating seems like a faint possibility now. Some people are probably unbothered as they don’t value the ceremonial aspect. However, for many seniors, especially for first-generation and low-income seniors for whom graduating from college can represent enormous struggle and sacrifice, the “day does define the journey” (contrary to what UCLA believed).

While I am fortunate enough to not share these obstacles, commencement was still something I was definitely looking forward to. From taking silly graduation photos to walking across the stage in front of my friends and family, this official process of moving on from school has always been something I’ve dreamed of. Commencement to me is the official culmination of all my hard work throughout college, and the split-second moments of receiving my (fake) diploma and tossing my cap make it all worthwhile.

It might seem selfish to mourn the loss of social interactions and celebration in the wake of a pandemic, but I still can’t shake the feeling that I’ve lost a part of my life I will never get back. As I shelter-in-place at home (please follow the CDC guidelines, it is very important), I still find it hard to believe that COVID-19 was simply an abstract notion in my mind a few weeks ago. It’s hard to know when our lives will be “normal” again, and these looming months of uncertainty fill me with dread. Our generation has been marked by the upending of the “traditional American lifestyle” and COVID-19 is just the latest iteration of this pattern. Everyone wants to be part of an exciting era, but the loss of a senior spring is something I will dearly miss. After this, I’m fine with the next couple of decades being uneventful.

Arun Dhingra is the Arts and Culture Editor for The Triton.