In light of the coronavirus, many senior students have mourned the loss of their last semester. A semester that, by all accounts, should have been celebrated with many lasts and memories with friends. A semester that should have been celebrated with fountain hopping, cap decorating and bar crawling was instead spent indoors in quarantine. Those last classes or tests way back in March were final moments without seniors realizing it.
A well-intended movement gathered across social media to comfort high school and college seniors that missed their “victory lap” on campus. Adults posted their senior photos and talked about their own senior year memories in solidarity with the students. Channel news networks began doing shout outs, whether on television or radio. Seniors were listed with their eventual alma mater and possibly future plans.
This was supposed to serve as a comfort, and for some, maybe it was. For many others, however, it was instead more of a consolation that exposed just how much some people aged or who is not a natural blonde. As some anonymous individual pointed out on Facebook, this social movement — both the senior photos and the senior shout outs — is like showing a homeless person your house and saying, “Don’t worry, it will get better.”
Locally, Southern Miss tentatively scheduled commencement for 2020 seniors on August 21 and 22. However, how many graduated seniors will have real jobs and other responsibilities by then? What about students who had to return to their homes out of state? It is not the most realistic expectation to believe that everyone will return to Hattiesburg just to walk and be handed a fake piece of paper for a degree already received over the summer. Just have a nice dinner with those that you love. Congratulate yourself on being thrust into the real world a few months too soon.
As a disclaimer: this opinion piece isn’t intended to discredit all of the hard work of the past four years, or two years if you’re a graduate student. All of it — the traditions, the commencement, and so on — just feels so irrelevant and distant when seniors are shoved into the real world before they’re ready, possibly into really difficult circumstances compared to their on-campus life. Despite the best of intentions, there is not much point in attempting to salvage the latter half of the spring semester. Like Gatsby, there is no point in trying to reclaim the past. Only to move forward.
None of these reparations will remedy the lost nights, the missed memories, and the fragmented connections as a result of this pandemic. It’s like trying to stop a bleeding wound with a band-aid. Instead of trying to fix the past, graduating seniors should be guided through the upcoming months. Seniors should be given more resources to prepare for the future, such as how to navigate the job market, or how to make professional connections remotely. Really, the final conversation should not be to sympathize with graduating seniors, but instead, congratulate them on passing classes despite the odds stacked against them, then offer tips to navigate the real world.
The best thing that can be done now for everybody, whether a senior graduate or not, is to move forward and adjust to this new normal that COVID-19 initiated. We all need support, not high school photos from the 70s.