Graduation in the time of Coronavirus

Thank goodness for technology that allows us to meet across time zones and geographies

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

The tickets had been booked well in advance, and there was much impatience to catch the flight that would take the parents and the graduant’s younger sister to the US. They were to attend the graduation ceremony of their son, and obviously he was as excited as them for the reunion and conferring of degree that would go on to be a cherished memory in their family album.

From locations across the globe, thousands of new Brown graduates and loved ones tuned in to Virtual Degree Conferral celebrations that honored achievements and offered words of wisdom for lives and careers to come

Unfortunately, things turned out differently – Coronavirus spoiled their carefully worked out plan. The family could not fly out as airlines stood grounded. This reminds me of a definition of life that I had once heard: Life is what happens to you when you are busy planning other things.

Besides, as the university emptied an alternative arrangement had to be found for the son’s boarding until graduation day. To their relief, a good friend was able to accommodate him, and he was well taken care of, leaving their place to return to his apartment a few days before the big day so as to prepare for it.

As sometimes happens in such circumstances, the co-occupant of the apartment was not as finicky about tidiness and cleanliness, so there was a lot to clear – beginning with the kitchen sink, or rather stink. But the young lad is very deft with his hands, and he got going immediately, speeding up when his flatmate vacated – mercifully! – shortly afterwards.

Most of us whose kids have studied overseas would have stories about loaded kitchen sinks that the pressure of studies and deadlines to meet could not be emptied as regularly as was required. Inevitably, utensils would keep piling up, and it was usually not till late Sunday night that a slot of time would be found to attend to the chore. Mama or Papa, or both, were the saviours when they made the trip to spend time with the loved one – increasingly possible in the past few decades as this could be afforded. And of course there’s more flights available than during my time as an undergraduate in Kolkata: the only once a week Air India flight was inaugurated in 1966, one year after I had left, and that too only up to Mumbai, and that went on well into the 1970s.

Family and friends of Class of 2020 graduate Grace Daly, who earned a bachelor of arts on Sunday, celebrated even though the pandemic kept everyone far from College Hill

I remember calling my son late one Sunday night when he was at university, and as all of us parents know our big concern is about their food. And quite naturally I asked him what he had had for dinner. Kichlao, he replied flatly. What?, I asked, what’s that? Khichlao, he repeated. And went on to tell me that he had started off making a pulao, and then, he continued, ‘I threw in a bit of this and a bit of that, and it was beginning to resemble a khichri. Finally it was neither quite a pulao nor a proper khichri. So I decided to call it khichlao!’ He assured me it was wholesome and tasty enough, and that he had managed to clear the full kitchen sink before getting down to his assignments anew.

Such is student life at the university, spiced with all kinds of similar incidents that are looked back upon with smiles and humour as they are narrated to family and friends in later years. And so too will be the virtual graduation ceremony of my niece’s son that we gathered to ‘attend’ last Sunday night.

She had set up the Zoom app on my laptop, and sent me the link. No need to say that I had to undergo a coaching session so as to be able to connect as I would be on my own at home during the session. I joined in a bit late because my laptop had a fit and wouldn’t boot, so I had to make a few more attempts before it got going.

Thank goodness for technology that allows us to meet across time zones and geographies. Family, friends and classmates from different locations in Mauritius and the US were thus able to watch the unfolding of the ceremony after our preliminary chitchats and the playing out of a video showing Alok’s lifecourse to date along with some of the messages that had been recorded. We went down memory lane and ‘nostalgiased’ (no excuse for this ‘verbing’ of a noun in these days of language transformation!) about shared moments fondly remembered.

The university heads made their addresses turn by turn. The formal announcement of conferment was preceded by its version in Latin: I had last heard Latin spoken during the Form I class at Royal College Curepipe, so this was a novelty. But it sounded appropriate and gave an augustness and solemnity to the occasion, despite the absence of gowns and caps that normally add colour and formality to the whole process.

All the hundreds of graduants became ‘degreed’, as it were, simultaneously in this virtual graduation ceremony that was, nevertheless, as rich with excitement and emotion as if it were the real one.

The ceremony may have been virtual, but the scroll will be real!

And now we await the return of our hero for the well-deserved celebration. That, definitely, will not be a virtual one!

RN Gopee

* Published in print edition on 26 May 2020

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