May 16, 2020. Sunshine splashes on my face and my alarm blares—another day in quarantine. Commence morning routine: boil oatmeal, brew coffee, sit by my open window and feast as I think about the day ahead.
A slow hour later, I grab my computer, plop onto the couch and click on a link. A few warm pictures of Illinois graduates flash across the screen. Words appear: “Your Illinois journey is made up of thousands of moments. No matter where you are, this is a big one.”
“Welcome” and “Virtual Commencement Celebration. Saturday, May 16, 2020” I read. I’ve been to a few graduations, but this is the first one on my couch.
At least I get to be comfy.
The Chancellor shares a few words of congratulations and then another video begins, showing the empty halls of Illinois, reminding us that in the face of unpredictability, the minds of the Illini are yet resilient—thriving.
“When faced with uncertainty, we were reminded that home isn’t just a place. It’s the people.”
As I listen to the words of congratulations from alumni, I think back to my graduation from undergrad two years ago. I remember having the feeling of accomplishment, but also a feeling of incompletion, as though I knew there was something better to come. I remember telling myself at that graduation, you’ll have another one of these in two short years. By then, you’ll have grown so much more! Graduation will feel a bigger deal.
My mind begins to travel from then to this last semester of school—my cohort staying positive when the world underwent a pandemic; my program coordinators offering seminars and a whole website to assist us to teach via Zoom (and personal phone calls to check-in); my mom making me blue cupcakes during my quarantined birthday; my dad watching movies with me every night to celebrate finishing that day’s work; my friends mailing cards and small packages to celebrate the end. My time at Illinois is made up of moments with others who walk with me.
The ceremony concludes after “Hail to the Orange” and some final words. When it ends, I close my computer and the apartment is quiet.
I find a smile on my face. No auditorium stuffed with excitement, no scent of orange and blue, yet I am proud to be a double Illinois grad.