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The Post-COVID Graduating Class of 2024

My takeaway from this experience is that things will happen in life that completely change its trajectory,
Ricoya Black holding her diploma from the University of Colorado Boulder on May 9, 2024. Photo provided by Ricoya Black. Bucket List Community Cafe

As the early morning light struggled to pierce through the thick blanket of clouds, a sense of quiet anticipation hung in the air at the University of Colorado Boulder. Four years had passed since the Class of 2020 had their senior year disrupted by the relentless grip of the global pandemic. Today, under the muted hues of a cloudy sky, we would move our tassel from left to right, our long-awaited moment of triumph finally arriving. We were finally graduating.

It was  March 12, 2020, when I sat in my geology class doodling about my plans for my final spring break as a high school student. Rumors were going around that we would have a longer break this time around due to a deadly disease called the novel coronavirus having made its way to the United States. At the time, I was really happy about the extended break as it would give me some time to catch up on the sleep I was deprived of due to senior year stress and work on some college applications and scholarships. Little did I know that I would not see the inside of my high school for the rest of the semester—not for classes, exams or prom. Not even for graduation.

On my high school graduation day, students put on their caps and gowns and drove through one of the school’s parking lots in a queue to receive their diplomas. We were organized by surnames in alphabetical order with staggered arrival times for each group of students.

For many of us, the journey to college graduation was nothing short of tumultuous. For the high school graduation class of 2020, we made the transition from children to adults during a time when the world was facing unprecedented circumstances that affected us in ways that we may or may not have acknowledged. We missed major milestones like high school graduation, a senior prom and more. We had to deal with the emotions attached to this disappointment that no one else in our lives could relate to while grappling with the uncertainty of what to expect in the near future— what our lives would look like post-grad. 

Many of us struggled with regulating our emotions and deserved some grace given the circumstances. During these unprecedented times, it was platforms like TikTok and Instagram that kept many of us out of depression by giving us reasons to smile and be active when the world was only giving us reasons to be sad and stressed. From the dance and makeup challenges to the funny videos trying to make light of what we were all going through, the class of 2020(4) stayed connected through social media and were all the more united during this perilous time.

However, amidst the chaos and upheaval, the incoming Class of 2024 exhibited an unwavering spirit of resilience. Virtual classrooms became our new reality and Zoom calls replaced the familiar buzz of the hallways. It was challenging, but it brought us closer together in a way we never expected. As a more introverted person, I actually did not mind virtual classrooms at first. However, as my first college semester continued, I felt like I was missing out on the in-person aspect of learning, connecting with peers and professors in a face-to-face fashion.

For this year’s graduating university class, our commencement ceremonies symbolize more than just a graduation—it is a beacon of hope amidst the lingering clouds of uncertainty. As the procession began, each graduate draped in their dignified caps and gowns, there was a palpable sense of pride emanating from the crowd. Families cheered, their voices rising above the muted backdrop of the morning.

CU Boulder’s commencement ceremony itself unfolded like a quiet symphony. Electrical engineer, computer programmer and Apple Co-founder Steve Wozniak gave our commencement speech., He wowed the audience with his achievements as a reminder that there are no limits to our goals and dreams. This resonated with me because even though I am a college alumna, I feel as though my dreams are even bigger now than they were when I was in high school given my unique experiences as the class of 2020(4). But perhaps the most poignant moment came when the graduates were finally addressed as alumni and caps began flying. Each throw felt like a victory, a testament to our resilience in the face of adversity.

My takeaway from this experience is that things will happen in life that completely change its trajectory, but also everything happens for a reason. It was unfair that we missed milestone moments in our lives, but we will forever be known in history as the class that suffered but survived. Our high school career came to an end in the least favorable way possible but here we are four years later. We maneuvered and persevered through the unprecedented circumstances and got the graduation we deserved this time around.

Graduation day marked not only the end of one chapter but the beginning of another. As we step into the uncertain future, we carry the lessons learned and the resilience forged during our journey. The Class of 2020(4) has faced adversity head-on and emerged stronger, united in our determination to take on every challenge and be successful.