Finishing the Puzzle: A Plea to Deans of the University of Virginia

Last night, UVA President Jim Ryan announced the cancellation of our commencement. With one email, visions of laughing and crying with friends as we make our way from the Corner to the Lawn one last time vanished. The shared joy between parents as we share embarrassing stories we have collected about each other over the last four years, shattered. The final hugs, kisses, pictures, speeches, tears, jokes, Good ol’ songs, gowns, goodbyes; gone.

Two weeks ago, my friends and I sat over a 1,000-piece puzzle of a buzzer-beater at JPJ on my dining table as we discussed what balloon each girl would carry at graduation. Sofie, a globe with sunglasses on, Julia, a tiger, Caroline, a minion, and Alexa, a unicorn or tax form (she is really good with numbers). We always gathered around that puzzle on Friday mornings, when we were too hungover to move and had spent too long and too much at Trin the night before.

That puzzle remains unfinished in an empty apartment with no one there to finish it, laugh over it, or cry over it. Next to it are the wilted tulips we had just bought before we left for Spring Break. When we left, they were in full bloom, like us students, ready to be adored for how much they have grown over the last few years in their full beauty. When we had left, we were excited to return and reunite over this puzzle a few times more, fitting in as many Friday mornings together as we could before spring closed, the parties ended, and we walked the lawn. But now, our puzzle will remain unfinished.

My friends are scattered cross-country, some even beyond U.S. borders. We are unsure about classes, unsure about jobs, unsure about the future; but what hurts the most is the uncertainty about seeing our friends again. I don’t even necessarily mean my roommates; I mean that one guy near the bus stop who always took out his AirPods to say hi to me on my way to my 11am, my fellow classmate who I could always count on to run to Starbucks with me in between Ethics and Economics. I miss all other fellow fourth-years who, by sweet serendipity, structured my everyday life. I wonder if I will ever see them again.

Around this time each year, I have always looked forward to the graduation videos UVA creates to commemorate the immense joy, hope, and sorrow to be relived over and over by those who celebrated their departure from grounds that day. I often rewatch these videos, which have always featured a familiar face, wondering who of my own friends I would get to see and shout to my parents, “Hey, I know that guy!”

We left for Spring Break unaware of any potential severance or separation, and returned scattered. A commencement is a ritual vital to the psychological health for seniors around the nation, closing one chapter with joy and opening another for an entire community. UVA’s commencement ceremony is a joyous bridge which UVA 4th-years walk together, from the starting point of what has been our everything for the last four years, to what might become our anything on the other side. Without this bridge, we drown.

For the last seven months, we have balked at anyone with the audacity to ask how we feel about graduating. Now more than anything, I just want to be asked that question one more time. Graduating isn’t easy, but not graduating is even harder.