I attended two graduations this month. My daughter graduated from college in Ohio and my son graduated from high school here in Juneau. Graduations are defined by time-honored ceremony and tradition, from the silly hats that no one ever wears in real life to the ceremonial calling out of students’ full names, even though they’re not in trouble. But everything looks different in the time of COVID.
Both graduations were outside. In Ohio there was a contingency plan in case of rain. In Juneau, unsurprisingly, the plan was to proceed outside, rain or shine. There were a lot of rules for both guests and graduates: wear masks, don’t move the chairs, no umbrellas allowed (rain or shine). Okay, we’ve all gotten used to following rules over the past year. We’re adept at covering our faces and avoiding human contact. We follow a hygiene routine of frequent hand sanitizing that was formerly relegated to germaphobes in romantic comedies. We can handle a few extra graduation rules.
Four years ago, when my daughter graduated from high school, I wrote an article, “Tips for High School Graduates.” At the time, my sage motherly advice seemed just about perfect. Let’s see how my tips have stood the test of Covid:
2017: “Press to impress. Your graduation gown, that is. The flimsy thing comes in the mail, folded into a 9 by 12-inch package in such a way as to maximize the wrinkles and creases. Believe me, every one of those creases is visible to the entire audience. A little forethought and a warm iron can make you stand out as a responsible young person who is bound to go far in life.”
2021: Who cares? The prospect of stepping out in a wrinkled graduation gown in the wind and rain seems extraordinarily trivial. Today’s tip — wrap up warm in your rain gear under your gown, just like you used to do under your Halloween costume for an evening of Trick-or-Treating.
2017: “Come prepared for tears. Slip a tissue pack into the flowing sleeves of your graduation gown, just in case.”
2021: Your tissues are probably all used up from the tears you’ve already shed over the past year and a half. Slip a bullhorn into your sleeve instead, to shout out to the world, “I made it!”
2017: “Wear high heels at your peril. Of course you want to dress up, but remember that in order to get to your diploma you must navigate a flight of steps and an expanse of stage monitored by countless video cameras including those of your younger siblings. Unless you want to give them potential blackmail footage of you wobbling across the stage or tripping in front of your principal, you should stick with comfortable shoes that are easy to walk in.”
2021: High heels were discouraged at one graduation and prohibited at the other. More rules! With an obstacle course of open stairs and football turf in one ceremony and metal bleachers in the other, both with rain hovering in the forecast, sensible shoes seemed the way to go. Again, who cares? When your face is covered by an unfashionable mask and you have a weird flat hat on your head, it’s hard to get worked up about what kind of fancy shoes you’re wearing in the rain.
2017: “Take with your left hand, shake with your right. It’s easy to forget which is which when you are faced with the daunting prospect of shaking your principal’s hand as if the two of you were equals.”
2021: No handshake, no worries! Of course, you have to figure out the awkward elbow bump which has replaced the handshake these days. Have you ever missed on a high five, following through with such force that you literally fell over from the momentum? Elbows have significantly less surface area than open palms, so the chance of missing on an elbow bump is much higher. And what about the etiquette therein? Do you elbow bump with the right or left elbow? What does Miss Manners say? OK, “no worries” might have been premature.
In the end, neither graduation was rained out. The one in Ohio was freezing, much colder than Alaska. A few drops of rain fell in Juneau, mixed with actual sunshine. A rainbow arched over the graduates sitting in the bleachers. How’s that for a blessing!
My closing bit of advice from 2017 still holds true for today: “Finally, enjoy the spotlight…Be proud of yourself—you’ve earned it!”
Congratulations, graduates. We are all so proud of you!
• Peggy McKee Barnhill is a wife, mother, and author who writes cozy mysteries under the pen name “Greta McKennan.” She likes to look at the bright side of life.