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Reflecting back on Grad 2021

By Muryum Muhmoodullah, August 20 2021—

Graduation is one of the biggest and most significant milestones in the lives of so many people. A dream some of us have not yet done but hope to achieve, while many of us have walked that stage and crossed one of the most momentous and significant accomplishments of our lives off their bucket lists. 

For some of us, this is a huge moment because we’re the first in our families to have a degree, while for others, it’s a huge deal simply because they’ve done what they’ve always dreamed — they met their goals and they accomplished what they challenged themselves to do. But regardless of our different backgrounds, graduation brings with it the closing of some chapters in our lives, while opening up new ones. And as exciting as this can be, it also comes with its fair share of nerves and stresses.

Statistics show that in the year 2000, there were 176, 556 graduates from universities in Canada and that number has only increased since, with the latest study recording 317, 913 Canadian graduates, in 2018. However, for students graduating in 2021, things were a bit different. Many of our university graduates didn’t quite “walk the stage,” as many universities held online ceremonies. The University of Calgary was one such university that didn’t host an in-person graduation. 

To the dismay of many, the pandemic put to halt many of our routines and our everyday norms, including how we come about graduation. Graduation isn’t only a key moment in our lives because we celebrate our huge accomplishments but it’s significant because of the challenges we face and the sacrifices we make in order to achieve our degrees and the meaning our degrees have in terms of our future. COVID had not only impacted graduation but had also created new and unprecedented circumstances for students to navigate through as they pursued their degrees. 

Mohammed Abu Talib Sheikh, a master’s graduate from chemical engineering at U of C shares with the Gauntlet some of his experiences and insights as a graduating student. 

He describes his journey completing his degree, as “two different versions of [the] university,” regarding pre-COVID, and then during COVID. 

“Pre-COVID it was really good, a lot of interaction, different people from different cultures and a lot of knowledge to share, lots of experiences to share with each other,” he said. 

However, with regards to during COVID Sheikh felt quite the opposite. 

“We didn’t have access to labs and we had to pay the same fees,” said Sheikh. “And we didn’t have wifi, at least we didn’t use university wifi — we were unable to use the library and we were not able to use the university full-fledged but we still paid full fees.” 

This was a common issue many students faced during the pandemic. Support and interaction from other students, staff and faculties was reduced for many students, while students were made to pay the same fees, if not more in some cases like for instance, international students.

A research study that conducted online survey interviews of students during the pandemic, found that students in higher-level education suffered drawbacks as a result of the shift online during COVID. Findings showed that around 71 per cent of participants had increased levels of anxiety, while at the very least 54 per cent of participants indicated negative impacts on their academics, lifestyles and health due to COVID. Among the categories of concerns that students faced, included increased social isolation, financial difficulties and increased class workload. 

With so much turbulence during the final years of our graduating class’s degrees, a graduation ceremony was all the more exciting and important. Sheikh, like with many other students, looked forward to the graduation ceremony. 

“The most exciting thing about grad was the graduation ceremony, which wasn’t held this year, so it crushed things up a bit,” said Sheikh. But what he found most disappointing about the online ceremony, which was echoed by many students, was that the graduation was recorded and automated. 

“It was not even a live one, it was prerecorded,” he said, expressing his disappointment. “Even the person who was reading the name was so automated, so dry, it didn’t really make us happy.” 

Yet, what Sheikh appreciated was that U of C was looking to include an art piece that acknowledged all the graduates of this year, that they graduated from a particularly challenging time. 

“They took an extra step to make an artwork, I don’t know where they’ll keep that artwork but they asked us to send our selfies to a portal,” Sheikh said.“They promised to make an art piece and keep a reminder that we graduated from a very rough patch of time and they promised us that they would conduct an in-person grad when things align back.” 

But regardless of the challenges that were faced in these past two years, students braved the storm and managed to graduate and complete their degrees. They deserve a special kind of recognition and are troopers who not only witnessed but graduated in such unprecedented times.

For many of us, graduation is still ahead of us. The nervousness of completing our degrees, accomplishing our goals and making it to the stage and beyond successfully are still some of our greatest concerns and anxieties. 

Sheikh shares some final parting advice for upcoming graduates. 

“One thing I would say is, start talking to people. Start talking to your professors because I didn’t know how things work here so I didn’t make a lot of connections in university,” he said. “For undergrads, you have a lot of time so start talking to your professors because they have a very connected circle around them.”

Yet despite it all the ups and downs and difficulties in pursuing a degree during the pandemic, Sheikh deeply appreciates U of C. 

“In spite of all this COVID stuff, they still made it, I’m really proud I graduated from U of C because it has really given me a lot of knowledge and a lot of encouragement and a lot of good friends,” he said. 

Not many things come easy and to achieve a degree takes a lot of sacrifices, sleepless nights and hard work. As the saying goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and our graduates at U of C who braved a global pandemic and still managed to graduate, are truly phenomenal.

This article is part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet’s editorial board.

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