OPINION: A Letter to Seniors

By Declan Kerwin | April 15, 2020 5:14pm
Declan Kerwin, senior mechanical engineering major. Photo courtesy of Declan Kerwin.

Dear Seniors,

This is sad. Everyone knows it is sad. The country has largely shut down, we can’t spend time with friends and family, and hundreds of thousands of people have been sickened or even died as of this writing. The whole world is suffering.

As seniors, we lost our in-person commencement next month. We are still relatively lucky, but it is not an insignificant loss. Many students have looked forward to this for years, whether as a rite of passage, a time to bring friends and family together, or a chance to say the words of love and gratitude that normally go unspoken. Whether it is online or postponed, this commencement will be missing many of the elements that usually make graduation meaningful.

I would like to offer two thoughts on this. I am not qualified to give advice, but no one really knows what’s going on at a time like this, so I am going to do it anyway.

First, remember that graduation is primarily meant to be a celebration, not a payoff. It is not supposed to be a fulfillment of years of effort; it is only supposed to acknowledge that you put in those years and that they are worth celebrating. If you focus on the experience rather than on the ceremony, it is clear that the goodness of our college experience has already been determined. It was when you met your roommates, when you stayed up longer than ever before, when you found a new skill, when you had to give up, when you realized you had a new friend, when you won your first IM game, when you lost the following six, and so on. Graduation would have been another great memory, and we are losing that, but nothing can invalidate all the others.

Second, remember that we are losing a chance to spend time with people whom we love; we are not losing the ability to do that. When you think about graduation, think of each time you would have said “thank you,” or “I love you,” or “I’ll miss you.” Those things can still be said. Instead of repeating them 50 times on May 3, let all that pent-up love be released in your daily life. A call six months from now may be worth more than an “I’ll miss you” on graduation could have been. As this crisis runs its course, try to turn this setback into an opportunity for growth.

I know I will sometimes struggle to follow my own advice. So, please be patient and understanding with everyone, from yourself to the administration. Don’t ignore your own problems, but remember all those who are suffering more than us. We have spent years learning not how to graduate, but how to be sources of goodness and hope in a world that badly needs it. Let’s commence.

Declan Kerwin is a senior mechanical engineering major. He can be reached at kerwin20@up.edu.