The class of COVID-19

  • >>Anemona Hartocollis, The New York Times
    Published: 2020-03-18 11:33:24 BdST

The notice came out of the blue: Like so many other colleges across the country, Wellesley would be closing campus because of the coronavirus, moving to remote learning. Students would leave for spring break and not come back.

For many seniors, there was one loss that hurt above all: graduation, and the traditions that came with it.

So they decided to make their own Saturday.

Some referred to it as “fake graduation” or “fauxmencement.” There were no deans. Students called their own names.

In place of diplomas, they selected flowers from a table.

After four years of hard work, these women craved some kind of recognition and closure.

“It’s an emotional thing for everyone on campus,” said Ninotska Love, a senior who helped plan the ceremony.

“We have a lot of first-generation students, where graduation carries particular importance.”

Like many students, Sarah Nwafor wore a graduation gown. Together, they sang their alma mater, and a special cheer was written for the occasion.

Graduates at Wellesley, in Massachusetts, have another spring tradition: rolling a wooden hoop down a lane on campus.

Wellesley College seniors cheer during an unofficial

Wellesley College seniors cheer during an unofficial "graduation" ceremony on the campus in Wellesley, Mass., on Saturday, Mar 14, 2020. The New York Times

The hoops are passed down, signed with generations of names. But on short notice, some students made do with whatever they could find, even plastic hula hoops.

The tradition started as a May Day activity, a day of “child’s play to escape from real-world worries,” according to a history provided by the college.

Whoever won the hoop roll, legend had it, would be the first to get married. Then it evolved — the winner would be the first to become a CEO Now it’s just said that her reward would be happiness and success.

Some younger students woke up at 5:30 am to save a spot at the head of the pack for their “big siblings.”

Alex Shook, the former president of her rugby team, reached the finish line first with her hoop. Her traditional reward: being thrown into the lake.

When her classmates hesitated (the lake was frigid), Shook jumped in on her own. “It’s a long sprint, and your adrenaline is going,” she said.

“I thought wow, this is closure,” she said. “This is good.”

Seniors at other colleges also held their own fauxmencement ceremonies.

The University of Chicago’s Ultimate Frisbee teams handed out frisbees in place of diplomas.

Students at Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts donned garbage bag gowns and origami mortar boards.

University of California, Berkeley, students posed for “graduation” photos in face masks.

And under a tree on the Amherst campus in Massachusetts, the college’s president, Biddy Martin, gave an impromptu address. “Thank you for doing this for yourselves,” she said.

For a class graduating into a world of quarantines and social distancing, that seemed a fitting valediction.


c.2020 The New York Times Company