After their senior year was cut short, the Class of 2020 finally got to experience an in-person graduation over a year later.
Although some graduates felt that last year’s virtual ceremony was missing something, they expressed mixed emotions about coming back to campus.
“It was kind of like suddenly we weren't in college anymore, and it didn't end the way we expected it to,“ said Aidan McGinnis, Trinity ‘20. “You could tell that they were trying [with virtual commencement] and did their best, but it didn't really have any sentimental value.”
McGinnis, who currently plans to go to medical school and is taking classes at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, feels as though he’s already moved on.
“People are going to be at really different places in their lives, and we’ll have so much less in common than we ever did when we used to be on campus,” McGinnis said. “It might seem kind of forced. But everyone will be in it together.”
Eoin Gronningsater, Trinity ‘20, shared a similar mindset. “There’s going to be 23- and 24-year-olds coming back to graduate. We've matured a lot during that time, since we've sort of been able to experience a little bit of the real world,” he said.
Even though graduation had the potential to feel like a burden on the daily lives of moved-on alumni, Gronningsater is glad that Duke followed through on their promise to create a commemorative opportunity. Gronningsater and McGinnis also had faith in Duke and their classmates to hold the ceremony safely in the midst of the pandemic.
Overall, the excitement of coming back to Duke outshone alumni worries. Being away from campus made many former Blue Devils come to the same conclusion: Duke is defined by its people.
A political science graduate and former member of the varsity fencing team, Gronningsater said he’s most looking forward to catching up with the people he left behind.
“I loved my time at Duke. It was the best four years ever, without a doubt,” Gronningsater said. “Campus was like a second home, and Duke athletics and Duke as a whole are really like a second family.”
Xiaolan You, Trinity ‘20, said that seeing all the close-knit friend groups back on campus was incredible. “It’s unlikely in the future that we’ll ever be in one spot again,” You said.
Coming back also meant being able to reflect on time at Duke. McGinnis, excited to reconnect with friends and professors, said “that’s ultimately what Duke is about: a collection of people you make memories with and learn from.”
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Ultimately, the ceremony provided alumni with the opportunity for closure. Gronningsater saw graduation as a “good symbolic way to begin a recovery and return to normalcy.”
“I think there's been a lot of suffering, hardships, and compromises in everybody’s personal and professional lives, and hopefully this represents a community of people who are ready to come back in a really strong way,” he said.