With commencement just a few days away, seniors reflected on their Duke experiences and shared their feelings about graduation.
“My friends and I have found ourselves weirdly un-intensely emotional about the entire thing. We already did a lot of our ‘mourning’ of the conventional college experience when everything got shut down last March,” senior CJ Cruz wrote. “For the Class of 2021, our exit from college is much more of a fade out than a hard cut.”
Some seniors, on the other hand, are feeling emotional about their time at Duke coming to a close.
“I’ve been so sentimental because I’ve had such a good Duke experience. I always felt really supported at Duke,” senior Chen Chen said.
After reflecting on all of her experiences—writing for The Chronicle, figure skating and traveling to Alaska, Greece and South Africa through Duke programs—Chen described her four years as “incredible” and said that she “wouldn’t change a thing.”
“Looking back at my transcript, I can’t believe I took all these classes and learned so many different things from each of them, and that I get to go onto the rest of life with all this random knowledge about the world and things I care about,” Chen said.
“When I was a freshman, I looked at the seniors and thought, ‘wow, that is so unattainable,’ and now I’m a senior, and I think if I was a freshman I’d be impressed with myself right now.”
Erin Lee, Trinity ‘21, described a similar feeling: “I didn’t imagine in a million years that I would be in the place that I am today,” Lee said.
Lee graduated a semester early and has spent the spring preparing for law school in the fall. She reflected that this extra semester has given her time to process the “oh my gosh, this is happening” feeling that seniors often experience.
“I’m glad I closed my chapter at Duke the way that I did. At first I was bitter that junior year was my best year ever and it got cut short. But I’m glad that I even got that best year ever,” Lee said.
The pandemic impacted senior year in both positive and negative ways.
Chen said that she enjoyed experiencing Duke with less academic pressure during her senior year. “Zoom made classes a little easier,” she said.
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A major downside of the pandemic is that Chen hasn’t seen some of her classmates since sophomore year. She studied abroad during her junior fall semester and, in the spring, came back to campus for just a few months before being sent home.
Lee said that she experienced “a lot of grief” initially about losing out on normal experiences. Eventually, she said, the pandemic gave her perspective and she was able “to appreciate what [she] had when [she] was there.”
All three shared that their parents are excited to attend commencement.
“Honestly, I didn’t think I was going to make it because they were saying that early graduates weren’t allowed to come, and my parents were really disappointed, but with the two person policy they are able to come and watch me walk across the stage. That’s more than I ever expected,” Lee said.
Cruz wrote that he believes graduation ceremonies are “not about the graduating class” but rather “about their loved ones.”
“It’s a culminating experience where the parents and guardians of the students get to celebrate that they raised their kids to a point of true independence,” he added.