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‘Be the change.’ Class of 2021 celebrates in-person graduation despite pandemic

By Sean Leonard
News Editor

Despite an unusual and challenging senior year, the Class of 2021 celebrated their graduation and time at the College on campus. The commencement ceremonies were separated by school and spread over three days, from May 19 to 21. Each graduate was allowed four guests, and the ceremonies were also live-streamed.

Victoria Giardina graduated with a degree in Journalism and Professional Writing. Giardina said she loved the unique format of graduation this year and appreciated that it was not an all-day affair. Her parents, brother and boyfriend were able to attend in person. 

“It was intimate, well-organized and made it feel much more applicable to my field of study,” Giardina said. “I am so grateful that TCNJ followed social distancing policies so they could all safely attend.”

This year’s Class of 2021 graduation took place from May 19 to 21 (Sean Leonard / News Editor).

Although her classes were mostly remote this year, Giardina said it was emotional seeing her professors because of all the help they gave along the way during her time at the College. Overall, Giardina said she had wonderful experiences during her four years and advised current students to be vulnerable and try out new clubs and activities.

“I was President of ODK (Omicron Delta Kappa), involved in my sorority and an ambassador. The latter has to be one of the most special and humbling experiences, and I’m for sure going to miss all of those tours walking backward,” Giardina said. “The experiences you make will truly last a lifetime, and TCNJ will always be your home.”

Currently, Giardina is finishing up a full-time editorial fellowship at Business Insider. In June, she will be beginning her new job as a commerce journalist for the New York Post

“It’s been a dream of mine to work for a traditional newsroom in N.Y.C. as a reporter, and I’ll be able to do just that,” Giardina said.

History major Lizzy Miner graduated in the Class of 2021, too, and she also enjoyed the setup of the graduation for its intimate nature and ability to bring guests. 

“I honestly preferred it this way. I find long graduations really boring — especially with a big class, they just drag too long,” Miner said. “Sure I couldn’t see everyone, my fellow seniors and underclassmen friends who otherwise might have come, but I liked the casual close-knit nature of the ceremony we had.”

Miner was glad to catch up with a friend from freshman year at graduation. Over the last four years, she said her favorite memories are of the small things on campus: “Seeing people around campus, studying outside with friends, meeting up at the Stud [and] great classes with wonderful professors,” she listed.

Although Miner made many fond memories in her college experience, the pandemic brought on many added stressors in her final year and a half. 

“I hated being on Zoom and found it draining. The professors made the best of it, but I lost all sense of community that made TCNJ so wonderful,” Miner said.

In the fall, Miner will be starting her master’s degree in history at Villanova University and cannot wait to get back in the classroom. 

Class of 2021 Chemistry major Margaret Varrelmann also appreciated the shorter duration of this year’s graduation, but she missed the opportunity to run into friends from other majors and schools. She also noted that future recorded ceremonies should focus on the graduates walking through the arch at the beginning instead of them sitting down. Nevertheless, she said her graduation was executed perfectly.

“Upon stepping onto the turf and turning the corner to find my seat, I found myself waving to professors I have not seen since virtual college began. I was also surrounded by friends whose faces finally came out of hiding behind black Zoom screens,” Varrelmann said. “We decided to meet up outside of the Chemistry building once the ceremony was completed and take a multitude of pictures to encapsulate the jubilant feelings of reunion and collect all of the memories made in just a few short hours.”

This year’s graduation had an unprecedented three-day format, but Varrelmann said the ceremony was not very different from traditional graduations.

“Perhaps the only thing missing for me was for parents and guests to come onto the field afterwards, ” Varrelmann said. “With this year’s in-person graduation, I would have to say the time spent on each student as their name was being called and then as they walked across the entire stage was my favorite aspect.”

As a transfer student, Varrelmann only spent the last two years at the College. However, she said her fondest memories include being a facilitator for the Leadership Development Program, writing articles for HerCampus, and having her photography included in The Lion’s Eye, the College’s literary magazine.

“As for looking back on my time at TCNJ, I will actually miss the long walks from the commuter’s parking lot to the Chemistry building as well as the career and involvement fairs.  Normally, I would choose to say how I will miss all of the people I met but I know I will stay in contact so they will never be too far out of reach,” Varrelmann said.

Varrelmann is not completely sure where life will take her after graduation, but she is looking forward to her first job after college and possibly is interested in graduate school. Like Giardina and Miner, Varrelmann advised current students to try as much as possible on campus and to stay true to themselves.

“Aside from that, I would leave them with the advice I have done my best to follow since middle school,” she said. “Each and every day, I try to live by the following quote from Gandhi: ‘You must be the change you wish to see in the world.’”

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