Graduation during coronavirus: Handling uncertainty and loss

The day before I left Tallahassee for spring break, I sat on a park bench next to my roommate from freshman year. As we talked, I couldn’t help noticing how much she’d changed since we moved into Landis Hall four years ago. I knew I had changed just as much, if not more. Together we mourned what we knew we were losing – the celebrations, the final goodbyes, the graduation ceremony itself. The chance to do our favorite things on campus for the last time. Most of all, we wished we’d had more time to make memories with the people who impacted us during a transformative time in our lives before we all go in different directions. We had to accept that graduation would look very different than we had envisioned.

Dr. Mark Anthony Neal delivers the keynote address at the Multicultural Leadership Summit on Jan. 26, 2019. Photo/ Valeria Rivadeneira
Kendall McDonald pictured with her roommate on move-in day her freshman year and then shortly before she left Tallahassee for spring break a few weeks ago.

For a lot of graduating seniors, the virus has completely changed how we will spend our last month of college. Many of us are struggling with uncertainty and a sense of loss. But even though we will not get to have a lot of traditional celebrations, there are still ways for us to stay connected and celebrate our achievements as we end our time at Florida State.

First of all, it’s important to allow ourselves to feel upset. Many people may try to ignore these feelings out of guilt that other people have it worse; however, grief is not a competition. Most of us were excited to graduate, celebrate with friends, and experience the traditions that go with graduation, and it can be difficult to let go. It’s important to give ourselves time, acknowledge our feelings, and allow ourselves to process these changes. It’s also important to remember that our classmates are going through the same thing we are and understand how we feel. If we need more support, we can always reach out to them and work through our feelings together.

Depending on where we’re going next year, some of us may not come back to FSU for a long time, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be connected to the people who made our time here meaningful. Reach out to the faculty and staff members who helped you along your journey and say thank you. Call your friends, check in with them, and offer support. Social distancing can feel really isolating and is a stressful time for many, but we’re all sharing these experiences. Stay connected, and remember you’re not in this alone.

We can still find ways to celebrate graduation in the midst of social distancing. We’ve worked hard for years to get a degree, and we deserve to take time to be proud of our achievements. If you ordered a cap and gown, do a creative graduation photoshoot around your house or backyard. Have a party with your family or roommates, or have a Zoom party with your other graduating friends. When I talk to my friends and look back on the ways we’ve changed since our first years, it’s astounding how transformative our time at Florida State has been. Everything, from my general worldview down to my appearance, is completely different than when I first arrived on campus – and I would argue that my time at Florida State changed me for the better. College is a time of immense growth, so it’s important to take a step back and take time to share the things we’ve learned, reflect on the ways we’ve grown, and honor the time we’ve spent at Florida State. 

Above all, we need to treat ourselves kindly during these next few months, encourage the people around us, and not be afraid to reach out to others if we need some extra support. Although the campus may be closed, we can work to keep our community active and celebrate the people, events, and things that have made our FSU experiences so special.


— Kendall McDonald, CLSC Marketing Intern