By Kristen Hunt
It has been two years since students at the College have experienced a typical graduation — mingling with classmates, taking photos with family and walking across the stage to receive the piece of paper they so greatly coveted. On a rainy day in May of 2019, hundreds of friends, faculty and family members gathered to cheer in wet bleacher seats, unaware that the class of 2019 was amongst the lucky ones.
As the class of 2021 celebrates new beginnings and the end of a challenging year at the College, most long for the same sense of togetherness that radiated across campus that rainy day in May two years ago.
“I forget what it’s like being a TCNJ student,” said senior mathematics major Jonathan Luzniak.
President Foster announced that the College will be holding several restricted in-person graduation ceremonies this May, with four guests per person at the ceremonies. While this news leaves seniors with a sense of hope for normalcy after a difficult year, social distancing mandates have left the College with the challenge of constructing a new sense of community.
“I miss the feeling of walking from one class to the next while passing familiar faces,” said senior accounting major Angelina Cipriani. “It’s sad to think that the last day before spring break 2020 of my junior year could have been the last time that I said hello and goodbye to someone that I was friendly with.”
The College will be holding 14 in-person graduation ceremonies over three days — May 19-21 — in order to abide by state health and safety protocols for social distancing, capacity and sanitation.
Senior math secondary education major, Angelo Vinco, is grateful for the opportunity to graduate in person, and cannot wait to take photos.
“I’ve been really excited thinking about seeing all my friends again after over a year and taking pictures together,” he said. “I think it’s really nice that they are still finding a way to give us seniors a proper farewell to TCNJ.”
Luzniak, who will be working full time as an actuarial associate post-grad, said he is also grateful for all the College has provided during the tough times. But he cannot help reminiscing the moments he least expected to appreciate in a pre-Covid world.
“I miss the social interaction upon making your way to class and the beauty of TCNJ’s campus en route to the Business Building or the Science Buildings,” he said.
Robert Dinger, a senior civil engineering major, who plans on working for a civil engineering company post-grad, agrees that a year without in-person social interaction on campus was disappointing, but is looking forward to seeing his hard work paying off in the future.
“I’m happy we will have an in person graduation,” said Dinger. “Given the circumstances I’m not sure what else they can do, but it is disappointing to say goodbye after a year of hardly seeing the faculty and friends that got me to this point.”
Senior marketing major Sarah Hayes, who will be working as a client service analyst post-grad, looks at graduation with an optimistic spirit. Despite the circumstances, Hayes said she had a great college experience, and is excited for new beginnings.
“I’m just excited to celebrate the past four years and start the next chapter of my life. My two brothers are graduating also (I am a triplet) so it will be a memorable day for all three of us!” said Hayes.
Senior biomedical engineering major, Axel Delakowski, who plans on developing a startup company and working for a Johns Hopkins lab post-grad, understands the College is trying to bring back a sense of normalcy, but has faced a few challenges during the virtual semester.
“Senior year was difficult. Even after logging off of class it still felt like I was clocked in. Social circles contracted to the closest friends and the nature of Covid restrictions forced a lot of us to search for new ways to de-stress,” he said.
Delakowski said the College could have done more for seniors this year, such as keeping the fall and spring breaks as a “much needed mental break,” and better resources for grad-preparation.
“The College should have exit strategy advising for seniors in place of academic advising in the spring semester for those graduating,” he said.
Vinco said he wishes there was a greater effort to organize more activities for his graduating class.
“I understand that their priority is to those students on campus, especially the freshmen, and keeping everyone safe and having a meaningful college experience,” he said. “However, I wish there was more ways for us to interact with one other with games or activities especially aimed toward seniors.”
After reflecting on the good and bad aspects of their senior year at the College, students are ready to turn the page at the in-person graduation.
“I think that in life, sometimes things don’t happen as you plan them to, and that’s okay,” Hayes said. “So even though this is not the senior year anyone was imagining or hoping for, it will still be one I will always look back on.”