A Weekend of Endings and Beginnings

It was quite a busy and emotional weekend for me, as it probably was for many others.

On one hand, it was a weekend of endings. For many/most/all? of the public North Carolina college, this was graduation weekend. Many of my son’s childhood friends, who are the children of my friends and usually my former students, graduated this weekend. My son’s college also broadcast its graduation this weekend. For at least some of the colleges, including my son’s college, it was a joint celebration of the classes of 2020 and 2021. For unlike last year, health precautions around the coronavirus had been lowered enough that the colleges held at least some physical graduations to honor the graduates.

Pursuing degrees under all the restrictions and limitations of the bast 14 months has been really, really hard. I know it has taken a toll on my son and on many of his friends and peers, even though they all were in relatively privileged circumstances. So I think we should particularly honor the graduates of 2020 and 2021.

Still, it was not graduation as we have always known it. Most had limited numbers of invited guests in order to allow social distancing and/or required masks and/or altered old traditions for safety reasons. However, even the darkest of circumstances have silver linings.

For example, at my son’s college, which is a small liberal arts college in North Carolina, had close to 300 people graduating between the 2020 and 2021 classes. There were mask and social distancing requirements that reduced the number of people each graduate could invite. However, they also included a ceremony called “A Toast to the Light,” which focused on the good rather than the darkness. Also, many graduates decorated the tops of their mortarboard hats with messages of gratitude, encouragement, and hopes for the future. One of my favorites is shown in the picture at the top of this post. I think that is a sentiment that many of us would agree with after over a year of sheltering at home from COVID-19.

Another advantage is that with colleges making graduations available virtually, more people can watch who couldn’t travel to attend the actual event or wouldn’t want to deal with the hassle of a graduation on the scale of NC State for someone who was a friend but not a close relative. The virtual option allows many more people to view the graduations than any college stadium could hold.

So, for example, on Friday I watched a virtual graduation of a young man who we’ve watched grow up since he was in a play group with my son when he was 2. His mom and I are close friends, but I wouldn’t have been invited to his physical graduation because of the restriction in numbers of attendees EVEN before coronavirus. But I did watch his ceremony over YouTube. This was not the big university graduation; this was his graduation from the School of Education (which alone had close to 500 graduates from bachelor to doctoral students). It was a lovely ceremony. They had a number of videos showcasing graduates and their commitment to teaching and making a difference with students, which were very moving. The bachelor students either submitted a picture of themselves–some in a cap and gown, others in sports or band uniforms or fancy or casual dress in a place of their choosing–or a video of them moving their tassel from one side of the mortarboard to the other to demonstrate their graduation. Even better, though, were the videos of the masters and doctoral student, which showed friends or mentors or family members placing the academic hood around the graduate’s shoulders. What a lovely way to commemorate those who supported the graduates as they pursued their academic goals!

Saturday, however, was a day of new beginnings. In addition to graduation activities, Friday was the day that the NC Governor listed restrictions on masked gatherings for vaccinated people. As is my routine, I was at our local Farmers Market at 8:00 to get my share of the freshest local vegetables. However, the former requirements for masks and social distancing were lifted (although people still pretty much stayed apart). It was so great to see the board members and the farmers and vendors and customers without masks. “It’s so nice to see you face,” I was told more than once. Plus, of course, produce is really starting to come in, so there were so many great vegetables to use in the meals to come this week.

That afternoon, my spiritual center had organized its first physical gathering in over year. It was held outdoors at Lake Crabtree Park on an afternoon that turned out to be simply glorious. It had been planned as a masked and socially-distanced event, and we agreed we would adhere to that if even one person who came felt uncomfortable without those restrictions. However, no one objected, so we removed our masks and hugged and shared food and benches and simply reveled in being with each other physically after so many months of only seeing each other over the computer. It was so uplifting!

In sum, it was quite a weekend. I hope yours was as heartfelt and encouraging of a brighter future–or really, a brighter present– as mine was.

And congratulations to all 2021 graduates! May you usher in a new era of light and possibility after your year+ of studies under restrictions.

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