Four years ago, Ananya Bhowmik’s family flew to Philadelphia from Dhaka, Bangladesh to watch her brother graduate from college, but she wasn’t able to make the ceremony.
This year, though, she expected to celebrate her college graduation with 18 of her family members who had booked flights to see her graduate from Temple University.
But on May 7, the day slated for her graduation ceremony, the Liacouras Center, one of Temple’s typical commencement venues, was transitioning from being a makeshift hospital for COVID-19 patients. The university’s Main Campus buildings were closed, and commencement had been postponed until further notice.
“It’s really frustrating to be honest because I was looking forward to the day for the last four years,” said Bhowmik, a senior mathematics with teaching major. “Especially because I missed my own brother’s graduation and I know how everybody enjoyed his and celebrated his graduation, I was pretty much looking forward to have one of my own. But obviously, it didn’t happen.”
Instead, Bhowmik made a kiwi-chocolate cake decorated with the Temple “T” in blueberries, took pictures in her cap and gown with her husband and video called with family members on Thursday.
While Temple’s largest-ever class of 10,400 graduates still await details on when they’ll walk across a stage on Main Campus, many found alternative ways to celebrate what would’ve been their graduation day, while having to comply with COVID-19 pandemic stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines.
The university announced May 7 to be Temple Made Day, and launched a website to compile video messages from Temple administration, faculty, alumni and staff for graduates. Some featured messages came from notable alumni like Hall & Oates’ John Oates and actress Tina Fey and her brother.
“I watched them and I actually got really emotional,” said Celia Porter, a senior psychology major. “I cried because they were good, but it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting.”
Various colleges, schools and programs within the university hosted their own ceremonies.
Porter’s psychology program hosted its own celebration on Zoom, where she was able to see her professors. Afterward, she also had a toast with her family members on Zoom from her home in Brigantine Beach, New Jersey, she said.
“I can’t believe I’m done, especially because I’m not in Philly, so I was like, ‘Oh wait, am I even actually done with college?’” she added. “It’s bittersweet knowing that I’m done but like I couldn’t have finished out my senior semester at Temple like on campus with my friends.”
Jonathan Sechuk, a senior communication studies major, celebrated by grilling hot dogs, burgers and pineapple with his family at home in South Philadelphia after he finished classes.
When the in-person commencement is announced, he’ll attend, but understands the need for people not to gather now, he said.
“At first, I felt pretty upset about it, but since this whole situation has happened I realized it’s important to stay safe and in the best interest of everyone not to gather together,” he added. “What I’ve taken away from it is, is just to make the most of the situation and to do the best with it that you can.”
In Kaitlyn O’Neill’s family, their graduation tradition is going to eat at Cracker Barrel after ceremonies. They planned to order takeout from the restaurant to celebrate, but opted to order Red Robin instead after their nearby store closed early on Thursday, she said.
And while the pandemic also impacted the Mexico vacation she had planned to celebrate her graduation, O’Neill, a masters in neuroscience student who has experienced celebrating an undergraduate commencement as planned before, empathizes for undergraduates who aren’t walking on stage.
“I definitely feel for everybody who hasn’t had that opportunity,” she added. “…So I just hope Temple makes up for it.”
For Jennifer Perez, a first-generation student and senior film and media arts major, she originally planned to graduate last year but had to extend her education due to family circumstances.
“I was hoping to finally be like, ‘Oh my god, yes, I finally have a graduation,’ and so now it’s like, ‘Oh man, nevermind,’” she said.
Perez’s parents didn’t want her to “move on” from the day though, so they ordered balloons to be delivered to their house, made dinner and took photos at the Schuylkill River in celebration to “make up the day,” she added
Until the postponed ceremony, Perez is floating ideas about whether her commencement will be this year in the summer, winter or even combined with the Class of 2021 altogether next year.
“Regardless, I’m still hoping to walk the stage,” she said.