Class of 2020 finds ways to celebrate graduation during pandemic

Aisina Farley
Senior Aisina Farley (center), from O’ahu, Hawaii, was the first to graduate from college in her family, so they still found a way to celebrate her achievement.

Kayla Drake, Managing Editor

Lindenwood’s graduation was supposed to happen this past Saturday, but because of the coronavirus pandemic, hundreds of seniors are having to find new ways to celebrate.

The university canceled spring graduation in late March. A total of 1,400 students, undergraduate and graduate combined, were scheduled to walk, according to Associate Provost Molly Hudgins. Since then, the pandemic has forced family and friends to get creative to show their appreciation for some grads, or in some cases postpone celebrations altogether.

Student’s families have hosted Zoom happy hours, done video contemplations of their college careers and organized friends to send encouraging video messages. 

And oddly for some seniors, including Kristine Pickens, those personal celebrations have been better than walking across the stage for commencement.

“It made me realize all the people that truly care about me, way more than I imagine… It was more personal and tugged on my heartstrings a little more,” Pickens said.

Kristine Pickens’ (center) was surprised when her younger sister edited a 40 minute video recapping her college career.

The day Lindenwood canceled commencement ceremonies, Pickens said her mom started brainstorming ways to make the day special. Both Pickens’ parents and grandparents graduated from college and knew what it felt like to be handed their hard-earned diploma.

What Pickens’ mom and sister came up with was a scavenger hunt leading her to relative’s houses in south St. Louis County and a 40 minute video of Pickens’ college career, complete with pictures, and video messages from friends and her Lion Line teammates.

Pickens’ younger sister combed through her social media accounts and DM’d her friends to send in messages.

“My mom had told me ‘Oh, we have a couple of things planned for you,’ but I never thought it was going to be anything like that,” Pickens said.

For other seniors who were first-generation students, like Aisina Farley, this was a historic moment.

“We come from just a small community, in a small island, my parents have never graduated from college… and I was the first one in my family to graduate from college and kind of break that generational curse,” Farley said.

Farley is from Kahuku, a town on the north shore of O’ahu and traveled over 6,000 miles to St. Charles, Missouri to play rugby and get a college education. So, Farley’s family printed an 8-foot banner of her graduation announcement, hung it above their garage and planned a pa’ina, the Hawaiian word for party. 

Hawaiian communities are no strangers to celebrating graduations. Farley said even before the pandemic, when students graduated from high school or college, her community would drive around in a parade.

It’s custom for each family that comes to celebrate, or drives by in this case, to give the graduate a lei. By the end of Farley’s parade she had flower and candy leis up to her neck and two bottles of champagne popped on her. 

“I smelled really good because of all of the flowers,” Farley joked. “But by the end I was like. ‘O.K. everyone, let’s take pictures, so I can take all of this off.’” 

Farley said her family didn’t take the banner down until three days after her pa’ina, partly because they were recovering and partly because they were proud of her accomplishment.

If things were normal, only Farley’s parents could afford to come to her graduation and see her walk. So in a way, she said the semester ending early was a blessing in disguise.

Farley accepts another lei from a friend, piling on the necklaces, which are a Hawaiian graduation tradition.(Aisina Farley)

“I thought it was really special because everyone that held a special place in my heart could celebrate with me at home,” she said.

Unlike Farley and Pickens, senior Jacob Adams, didn’t have anything special planned for graduation. 

“Once I turn in my final project… I am probably going to end up sleeping for two days, maybe eat some ice cream in celebration, but mostly sleep,” Adams said.

But even though his original plans to celebrate graduation have been canceled with nothing to replace them, he said that still doesn’t take away from the hard work he’s put in. 

“With the amount of work that we put in over the years, not necessarily at Lindenwood, but with community colleges or any other type of schooling we’ve had post-high school, I think that, while the culmination of actually walking is pretty symbolic, … I think that just being done and turning in that last assignment is the first milestone of finishing,” Adams said. 

Either way, if you’re celebrating or not, but a part of the Class of 2020, the internet has got you covered. Since the pandemic, celebrities like Oprah, Jennifer Garner, Tracee Ellis Ross and former President Barack Obama have stepped up to deliver graduation speeches. Click here for a full schedule (P.S. Oprah’s is May 15).

Lindenwood has announced graduates will be emailed a graduation message from university President John Porter in late May. Seniors are also invited to come back and walk in December.