Thinking in retrospect, our memories for the year 2020 are sure to paint sorrowful pictures. The inexplicable fear imposed on our lives will dominate alongside a sense of gratitude for having been let live long. But for those young and aspiring youth expecting to graduate this year, the 2020 memories would remain to be too unkind that would never be up for any reconciliation for patching up with what was lost.
No graduation cakes with friends and family, no graduation parties, no walking on the dais with robes decorated with the graduation chords that they earned on becoming a learned person. The proud smiles and giggles with friends would not be there to be recorded as beautiful graduation videos. The memories with thick childhood friends clicking the group pictures would not be there for them to share with their grandkids. They won’t be able to see the proud faces of their parents when their names are called out on the microphone, listing their achievement as a proof for the long nights of toil that they went through.
Graduation is a big deal in the US, not to say a word about the Indian Americans, for whom it is even more special. The importance given to education plays a huge part in Indian American families’ priority lists. Many of the first-generation Indian immigrants usually plan in detail for the D-day that would have never been implemented in 2020.
Grandparents’ plans to visit from India never saw light. The dress and attire planning for the family is a cute discussion for the siblings, that never happened. Uncles and aunts living in other parts of the US could not make a trip to visit their nephew’s or niece’s graduation. A proud family reunion that never happened. For many, it would be an occasion to meet the families of their chosen life partners that as well never materialised.
But as much as these are true and painful, 2020 graduates will have a very different and unique story to tell about how their schools and colleges planned for elaborate virtual graduation to honour them. Some schools have displayed huge pictures of the graduating students outside their school campus, recognising their achievements. Many others planned for car parades of families with the graduating students who are awarded their certificates of merit while maintaining social distancing.
Virtual graduation ceremonies are what most colleges planned. “We worked a lot for our daughter’s college graduation ceremony and with all becoming virtual celebrations, we were disappointed. But looking at the pandemic toll on human lives, everything else mattered little. Still, the virtual graduation made us send out tears of joy. Our daughter, dressed in her graduation robe, was at home when we parents had to award the degrees when her name was being called virtually. The whole event was webcast and our extended families from all over had to watch remotely and it was quite a scene to describe,” said Ramanathan Swamy.
“We had to make it memorable for our son. What is interesting is we as a family got so close and became important in making this virtual graduation special for my child,” said Soham Patel.
“We never experienced or felt the stomach turns that typical last days of schools give a student. The last day of our 12th grade came to us so abruptly in early March, when we were asked to clean up the lockers and go home as the schools were being closed for the pandemic. No one thought that it would be the last day of my school,” said Harish Vasudevan.
It is not just graduation memories that will go missing. But most aptly, the farewell parties, the prom nights, the night out parties to commemorate the last days of school and more have gone missing in their lives.
Just not parents of students graduating from schools and colleges also but moms and dads of preschoolers have lost their cute moment in the COVID-19 crisis. “When we moved to the US and admitted our four-year-old in the preschool, we were told so many exciting things about the preschool graduation ceremonies that happen in these institutions. Dressed in graduation robes and preschool pass certificates in hands and graduation hat decorating my five-year-old was something I was eagerly looking forward to, that never happened,” sighed Sindhuja.
Graduation ceremonies are truly wonderful moments in the American education system, particularly for the Indian American immigrants whose success stories get scripted right on these doorsteps. The education system truly embraces the individuality of the student and projects it well on the graduation day. Truly a place that teaches everyone to recognise the pride of being who we are. These are fine moments unique for first-generation Indian American immigrant parents, for most of whom the completion of degrees back home would mean a mere compulsion to dive into the next stage of life.
However hard it may be to skip the fine moments of graduation, most of these children have responded to the crisis by accepting the realities and found themselves in a fitting space by participating in community activities, like organising relief and donation drives in their own way. These experiences and memories of responding to times of crisis will be the treasures that they can proudly pass on to their next generations when sharing their flashback moments. Yet in a corner of their mind, they will still hear those clicks of the camera that went missing on their D-day.
— The writer is a journalist based in New York