There’s an ingrained optimism to college commencements. Though they mark the end of something special, something attained only through hard work over years, the very term makes clear they also mark a new beginning.
Perhaps, then, it’s fitting they typically occur in the spring — nature’s season of rebirth.
And this year, as has been the case for the past three springs, those participating have an extra layer of accomplishment to celebrate, that of having survived and succeeded through one of the most turbulent, disruptive eras in memory.
“This wasn’t the college experience we expected, but each of us has made the best of it,” said Keene State College class of 2023 President Abby Cohen this past Saturday.
Indeed, it’s difficult to imagine anyone unaffected by the global pandemic. But educationally, the class of 2023 may have had the worst of it. The virus hit — and the world effectively stopped — in March of 2020, as they were hitting the home stretch of their freshmen year. That academic term, and the next, would be experienced remotely. Upon their arrival back at school in the winter of 2021, they were subject to a melange of precautions — from distancing and masking to weekly testing and cleanings — and restrictions on where they could go, with whom and how many, and what they could do there. The remaining semesters have included a varying degree of those precautions and limitations, many of which have impinged on both learning and one of the best and most-important college experiences, socialization.
And yet here they are, at that precipice of a new beginning, commencement of their adulthood and careers.
Keene State’s class are now certified graduates. River Valley Community College will offer the same status to its qualifying students Friday evening, while Franklin Pierce University and Antioch University New England will follow suit on Saturday.
In a “normal” year, those graduating would be bursting with pride at their accomplishments, the culmination of 16 years or more of schooling, and looking forward to what comes next. This year, as has been the case since the novel coronavirus appeared, there’s certainly an extra sense of relief, of having made it through, having literally, survived the past three years.
In that respect, it’s hard to imagine a more worthy example of the aphorism “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” than the novel coronavirus and its variants. Not only has it literally killed — more than 1 million Americans so far, and nearly 7 million worldwide — but it’s disrupted lives, families, businesses, education and communities to a near unprecedented degree.
Even with this week’s official end to the COVID health emergency, the danger isn’t gone, just ameliorated enough via vaccines to allow more normalcy to life. These new grads thus begin their next stage of life with fewer impediments than they’ve experienced during their college careers, but with decidedly nonacademic experience that should inform them going forward.
Thus, the appropriateness of Cohen’s words, and those of Keene State President Melinda Treadwell, who sent the class on its way with this observation:
“You’ve managed rough waters, no doubt. You’ve reached the other side, safely, capably and confidently. You’re brighter and more resilient for having had that experience, and I am truly in awe of your grace and the hope you have shown all of us.”
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