Graduating from university during a pandemic

Shauna Burdis

Every autumn, Dublin City University graduands, their families, friends and DCU faulty, gather at the Helix to attend the annual graduation ceremonies and celebrate one of the most rewarding days of a student’s educational career.

The graduation for a third-level student is the finishing line after their academic journey at either undergraduate or postgraduate level, it’s the reward for the hard work and dedication put into earning a degree.

Through normal circumstances, the graduation ceremony would consist of families and friends of the graduates, gathering around taking pictures of the students in their cap and gowns. Then everyone would go and take their seats in the auditorium to watch proudly as the graduating classes take to the stage to receive their degrees. But now we are living in extraordinary circumstances, which means even the little things in life have had to change.

In the current Covid situation, universities have announced they will continue studies online for students, which means social and educational gatherings have been halted to comply with Covid-19 guidelines, in order to protect the welfare of students and faculty.

“DCU has explored a number of options with a view to holding in-person graduation ceremonies. Our priority at all times continues to be the safety of students, staff and the wider community.

“In light of prevailing public health guidelines, it is hugely disappointing that it will not be possible to hold in person graduation ceremonies in 2020.” Said a statement from the university.

Universities across Ireland have had to postpone graduations or hold the ceremonies online. However, DCU has made it clear that they have “listened to and heard the student voice that there is no appetite for virtual ceremonies.”

As of yet, the university is yet to confirm plans for in person graduation ceremonies for the classes of 2020.

Former DCU student Catherine Gallagher, who recently completed a masters degree at the university and is set to graduate in March 2021, said she has made peace with the possibility that an in-person graduation ceremony may not take place.

“In terms of my own graduation for a masters, even if it did go ahead, as a person who has a couple of underlying conditions, I’m not sure I would want unfortunately to be in the Helix with a lot of other people.

“I had to make my peace with the virus very, very early on. I would have been I suppose in-between restricted movement and cocooning all throughout these 8 or 9 months, more so on the side of cocooning. So, I had to make peace with that in my head.

“It’s very challenging and to complete your studies throughout the summer in one room when you can’t meet up with your friends because you’re afraid that you’re in a more vulnerable position, was really challenging.

“But I’m very grateful at the same time that I had something to work for. Its looking unlikely in my mind about graduations next year, I’ve made my peace with it. If a vaccine is available and we can all go, that might be a different scenario.

She continued: “But we are in this kind of way of living where I won’t get my hopes up too much too soon. In the way that things are and over the next while I’m going to be prioritising what is safe for me but having said that I would’ve loved to have a graduation with my master’s friends.”

The experience of graduating for those in a postgraduate programme and undergraduate programme faces one major differences. For the undergraduate classes of 2020, this was their first university graduation, a momentous occasion that for the distant future has been put on hold.

“I would have been graduating myself at an undergraduate level around this time last year and I had a lovely day and a lovely time with some of my best and closest friends and my classmates. That was really important, and I particularly feel for the undergraduate students who won’t get that opportunity to graduate with some of their closest friends and mates, I particularly feel for them” said Gallagher.

Tadgh McNally, who completed his undergraduate degree at DCU and was set to graduate with the classes of 2020, said that his experience of receiving his degree was definitely not what he expected when he began studying in DCU three years ago.

“We just got our degrees sent to us in the post.

“My experience kind of echoes peoples. It’s a bizarre situation even more so with finishing my degree. The situation is the same for people in first year, second year and third year. But for people who were in their final year graduating, it’s the same situation but the context is different, like you’re not going back to DCU.

He continued: “I remember looking out the front window and seeing the postman just drive past and thinking, oh I’m not going to get my degree today that’s a shame. And then I remember looking out about ten minutes later, and seeing the postman coming back with my degree in his hands.

“It’s strange not having it the official way, going up and shaking hands and being handed your degree, dressed in your robe and cap.

“It wasn’t what I was expecting to have when I first walked into DCU three years ago, but it’s the situation I got. But I’m just happy to have graduated after three years, but hopefully when we do get some kind of ceremony, it’ll be a reason to celebrate, whenever that is.”

Shauna Burdis 

Image credit: Unsplash