Three years ago, I was naïve and barely 20-years-old and had just arrived in the Netherlands. I had moved into Hatta, ready to embrace the Rotterdam student life as a part of the International Bachelor Communication and Media (IBCoM). Fast-forward through two and a half years of getting lost in Tinbergen, drinking cheap beer in De Smitse and struggling to breathe in the G-building to March 2020, when a certain pandemic crept around in Europe and the entire class of 2020 was forced to finish their theses remotely.
Personally, I chose to seek some peace of mind during an extremely stressful time and isolated myself at my family’s summer house in Eastern Finland. And so, last May, surrounded by the green woods, birdsong and a winding river, I spent my days writing my thesis on rape narratives, still hopeful I would be rewarded by a sumptuous graduation ceremony with the rest of the class at the end of September. After all, four months is a long time, right?
Well, as we now know, it might be a long time in some respects, but when you are in the middle of a pandemic, it most certainly isn’t long enough. The amount of corona infections sparked dramatically in the Netherlands in early September, forcing our department to scale down the ceremony. At that time, to comply with the corona measures, the ceremony was divided into two shifts.
If only the drama had ended there. Only three days before the ceremony another press conference by the government changed everything and the original ceremony was no longer possible. By some miracle, the IBCoM staff managed to pull it off anyway and the graduates were invited to pick up their diplomas in shifts at LantarenVenster last Thursday.
Since I have the worst time management skills in the whole world, I arrived three minutes late instead of the recommended 5 to 10 minutes before that were specifically highlighted in the invitation email. The Dutch weather was, of course, on my side and the horizontal rain was splashing across my face as I ran from my Uber into the building in shoes that were most definitely not meant for that activity (thank god for waterproof mascara). Despite the struggles, I made it somewhat on time to the ceremony-slash-pick-up event and immediately broke the 2020 tassel off my cap when I put my hands on it.
In the theatre, fourteen of us were sitting at an appropriate distance from each other, instead of the one hundred something that actually graduated. The ceremony itself consisted of pre-recorded student speeches and a performance. A year ago that might have felt weird, but after half a year of Zoom classes and Teams meetings, my brain barely recognises activities that are not happening on a screen. The event was being streamed live on YouTube for our friends and families to watch. After walking up to the stage, picking up our diploma from a table to avoid physical contact, being photographed and tossing our caps in the air, it was all suddenly over.
If someone had told my 20-year-old self three years ago that I would be graduating amidst a pandemic that shut down one country after another, with my family watching it on a computer 2000 kilometres away, I couldn’t tell you how I would’ve reacted. Because for the majority of my bachelor, I imagined walking out of Erasmus Aula with my diploma, surrounded by the rest of my class and my family. Do I feel sad that that didn’t happen? Of course. But I also feel proud: proud of myself, proud of my peers and even more proud of the IBCoM staff who somehow, constrained by new measures and in only 48 hours, still made sure that we all had our moment in a blue cap and gown.
Without a doubt, 2020 has been an extremely absurd and challenging year to try to finish any degree. It has been an absurd year for education overall. Yet somehow, we have adapted and persisted, and continue to adapt and persist. The entire university community at EUR has proved that it can face a crisis – and survive. And so, to everyone who graduated in 2020, I want to say: congratulations. The end might have been unexpected and disappointing, but I hope you have been able to enjoy the journey. May this absurd finale not reflect what the future holds for us.