By Danae Reid
For most college students, graduating is the ultimate goal, especially after they’ve spent thousands of dollars and countless hours in an effort to get a degree. However, with COVID-19 being as contagious, complicated, and unpredictable as it is, life as a student has become that much more difficult.
In-person classes have been converted to online courses, which can be frustrating especially during this time, and the cancellation or postponements of ceremonies, large events, and commencements have left numerous students across the globe wondering, “What’s next?”, especially college seniors.
Graduation is a moment for celebration and reflection, not just for students and faculty, but for friends and family of the scholar as well. But as of right now, it’s looking as if many senior students will not get the chance to walk across the stage to receive their diplomas this semester.
Howard University — a school revered by many Black Americans as “The Mecca” — is one of the first universities to make the decision to cancel graduation in its entirety. Reports of commencement cancellations came shortly after a guest who’d attended Howard’s Charter Day, tested positive for the virus following his visit.
As someone who graduated from a PWI (Predominantly White Institution), I can only imagine what it’s like to even attend and/or be honored at a Howard University commencement ceremony, and for students like Gregory Williams Jr., that was one of the reasons he chose HU in the first place.
Williams is a senior business major at Howard University and was planning to participate in the traditional graduation ceremony this coming May, but again, those plans were thwarted at the hands of the virus that has shocked the nation and world.
SUN: What drew you to Howard?
GW: Howard wasn’t originally on my schools to apply to, but during my senior year of high school, I had a class solely dedicated to applying to colleges. During one of the days that I didn’t have much to do, I decided to send my common app to a few HBCUs. At a certain point in the fourth quarter of my senior year, Howard was the only school that I had not heard back from yet and I’m not sure if the anticipation led me to grow a strong desire to go, but I was waiting anxiously and didn’t want to commit to any other school.
I finally received my acceptance the same week [as] their Accepted Student Weekend, and I quickly found a current student to host me for the weekend. I took the bus to D.C., and it was one of the best weekends of my life. I’d went to a predominantly White high school, so I think being surrounded by such a diverse pool of Black people was refreshing and inspiring. My mind was made up before I got back on the bus to go back to Delaware.
SUN: How would you describe your experience?
GW: My experience at Howard is a little difficult to describe in words — words just don’t do it justice. It’s been a rewarding, life-changing experience. Howard is the kind of school that breaks you down and builds you back up in the greatest way.
I’ve experienced some of the greatest moments of my life during my time at Howard, and I’ve also experienced some low moments that I couldn’t envision overcoming as well, but that’s one of the beautiful things I realized about attending Howard. Sometimes you are forced to deal with difficult situations that you may have been able to avoid otherwise, and when you overcome them, you discover something new about yourself. I’ll forever be grateful for the time I’ve spent there.
SUN: I know ‘senioritis’ is hard. How difficult is it trying to still be a senior and graduating student in the midst of all of this?
GW: ‘Senioritis’ is definitely real, but I’m a self-motivated and pretty organized student, which helps me get my assignments done. The current pandemic and switch to online classes hasn’t really made school any more difficult for me, but I can definitely say that I am very ready to finish.
SUN: What does a Howard University graduation mean for Black students who go there?
GW: A degree from the illustrious Howard University is empowering. The graduation [ceremony] is a celebration of Black excellence. Graduating from Howard University means striving to make sure our Black voices are heard and that our minds are respected in whichever industry we decide to work in. It means being able to open up doors and create opportunities for HBCU students that come after us… It means to be Black and proud.
SUN: How did you feel when you found out your graduation would get cancelled?
GW: Initially I didn’t have any real feelings or reactions towards it being cancelled, I just wanted to get my degree. But it’s definitely an unfortunate situation– it’s hard to accept not getting to celebrate four years of hard work with my classmates, but I know I’ll be able to celebrate somehow.
SUN: What are they planning to do about commencement?
GW: As of now, there are no concrete future plans on how the university plans to celebrate the class of 2020, which is understandable since there is no knowledge of when the pandemic will end. But, Howard has announced that they will send out a survey to the senior class to hear how we would like to make up our graduation.