When I graduated from high school, my mother, father, and middle school aged brother and sister sat in the bleachers and cheered. They got pictures, clapped when the principal announced my name, and hugged me after the ceremony was over.
When my brother graduated from high school, I travelled from 1,500 miles away to sit in those same bleachers. I saw what he watched years before, seeing a parade of red caps against the football field floodlights, the sticky heat settling on the metal, and I cheered when they called his name, too.
This year, my sister graduated high school and got her high school diploma in the mail. She watched the livestream of a small ceremony from somewhere else in town. She didn’t even have to get out of her pajamas.
Only a few months later, I completed my bachelor of fine arts degree.
The death toll continued to rise, with friends and family growing ill, or losing loved ones. People all over the country bicker about the right way to handle the crisis of a virus that threatens everyone without prejudice.
So, my graduation is celebrated in the extra room that serves as my study in our trailer home. I have with me my water and coffee, and a microwaved breakfast bowl.
No trips to pampered rooms and stadiums. No hugs from my parents. No siblings looking on.
The experience is the same for the other 21 people in my graduating class and countless more across the country. A stream on phone and laptop screens and a list of names in homes from coast to coast. Snapchat videos and emoji-laden text messages commemorate the event, but no hats go up. No tassels turn. No one dances across the stage.
Yet, am I any less a graduate? Have I done less to earn my GPA, my BFA? Am I a disappointment to my family for a lack of fanfare? Is there less fairness in the world because I couldn’t roll my chair across the stage to take a slip of paper that will come in the mail instead?
In my own mind, perhaps. But the smooth paper of the degree between my fingers is real. The shiny ink reads my name. I will not be undone when I remember that I am done.