Grads, current seniors gear up for commencement

This year’s in-person graduation is bringing 2020 and 2021 grads together for the first time in over a year, but safety is as important as ever.

It wasn’t the ceremony that USC graduates last year wanted. Instead of walking across the stage to receive their diplomas with friends and families in attendance, USC 2020 graduates watched the virtual graduation ceremony from their homes.

For 2020 graduates like Paige Young, last year’s graduation was a pandemic-inspired makeshift affair.

Dressed up in their caps and gowns, 2020 graduates like Young took pictures with balloons and leis around their necks while celebrating with their family and friends. A dramatic art major with a minor in cinematic arts, Young attended a socially distant outdoor party in Pasadena to watch the ceremony live on a projector.

“That was honestly super fun, probably more fun than a ceremony,” said Young.

USC will be holding socially distanced in-person graduations at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum twice a day from May 14 to 25. The ceremonies will be open to 2020 and 2021 graduates, who are each allowed to bring two guests.

Young is planning on attending this year’s graduation. She is not looking forward to the ceremony as much as other graduates, however.

“I’m not super excited,” Young said. “But my parents want me to go and I have a lot of friends going, so I said, why not?”

It’s been a year since Young graduated, so she does not feel that it will be the same as it would have been if she had an in-person ceremony last year, but it is nice that she has a chance to walk the stage. USC decided to hold graduation ceremonies for both the 2020 and 2021 classes this year, so Young will break out her robe and tassels one more time.

“I’m looking forward to having my parents see me walk across the stage,” Young said. “They’re very excited and happy about it.”

Young wasn’t the only one who made the best out of the 2020 virtual ceremony. Tata Vivas, a soon-to-be 2021 graduate, celebrated her housemate’s virtual graduation with food, balloons and a big projector screen. Although the party was limited to their “bubble” of housemates, Vivas wanted to make the day special and make it feel as in-person as possible.

After a semester of virtual classes, Vivas is excited about stepping foot again on campus for her graduation with a double major in theatre with an acting emphasis and narrative studies.

“I’m excited to see my vaccinated friends for the first time in over a year which is so crazy,” Vivas said.

She is not the only one who is looking forward to being back. Rohan Hardas has not been on campus or seen his friends in over a year when the school shut down. Hardas’ decision whether to attend graduation or not came down to him wanting to reconnect with friends.

“A bad part about last year was everyone kind of left without getting to say goodbye to each other so it wasn’t a lot of closure between your best friends,” he said.

Hardas graduated from USC in 2020, he double majored in business and accounting and minored in sports media industry. Last year, he celebrated graduation with family and childhood friends at his home in Corona, California.

Although Hardas does not have any big plans for graduation this year, he plans on making up for lost time with his fellow 2020 graduates.

“Me and a couple of friends are going to recollect and do all the stuff that we didn’t really get a chance to,” he said.

Due to the uptick in vaccinations throughout the United States, COVID-19 restrictions have begun to ease in parts of the country. On April 27, L.A. County met the criteria for the first of two weeks required to move into the most lenient, yellow tier.

According to county data, COVID-19 cases were at 1.9 per 100,000 people. The yellow tier requires a new daily case rate of less than 2 per 100,000 people for two straight weeks.

Dr. Rita Burke is an Assistant Professor of clinical preventive medicine and pediatrics at USC’s Keck School of Medicine. Although she recognizes that we are in a better position now than we were last year, she still believes that certain safety protocols should be followed.

“Even getting a vaccine does not protect you a hundred percent from contracting Covid. The vaccine protects you from critical illness,” said Dr. Burke.

If graduates do decide to have a gathering, she recommends them to be held outside with space to socially distance and a selective group of people. She also encourages mask-wearing, especially by those who are not vaccinated.

“I think it’s completely understandable that folks want to celebrate this momentous occasion and mark this really important milestone in their lives, but we have to remember that safety needs to be a priority,” Burke said.