Home Homepage Latest Stories A COVID Friendly Commencement Speech for the Class of 2020

A COVID Friendly Commencement Speech for the Class of 2020

by Kristen Milburn

Disclaimer: No official decisions have been made to change Montclair State University’s commencement and or convocation ceremonies scheduled for May 2020. This is a strictly satirical opinion piece.

It is such an honor to deliver this year’s commencement address. It’s unfortunate that this year’s ceremony is being conducted over Skype, and even more tragic that you all have an up-close and pixelated view of my double chins. We soldier on.

This is, of course, not how any of us imagined our college experiences to end. After thousands of dollars and years of late nights and poor dietary choices, our time at Montclair State University has come abruptly and unsettlingly to a close.

We were sent away from campus, our friends and the lives we had created for ourselves as the world we had just begun bracing ourselves for becomes even scarier. We are uncertain graduates in an uncertain time, looking for answers when there might not be any.

We had virtual goodbyes and no transition into the real world like we had planned. Just bins of belongings and a sudden push into completely uncharted waters.


In the two days after Montclair State’s decision to extend spring break and make classes online for the rest of the semester, I had to resign from two jobs and get ready to move my belongings out of my residence hall and home two months earlier than expected. I was sad, angry, scared and ashamed.

I was ashamed that I felt upset even though myself and my loved ones were still healthy and because I know precautionary measures are crucial. I felt that I had no right to be so unsettled, especially because I still had somewhere to live and comforts still available to me. These are not givens and I remain very grateful.

After I cried and ate a lot of Oreos (Double Stuf, because I haven’t become completely unhinged), I realized that it’s okay to feel upset about all of these changes even though I still have a lot to be grateful for. This is an unsettling time for all of us, and feeling ashamed of our emotions just because others may have it worse is unhealthy and unproductive. I know I’m not alone in feeling rattled by senior year ending this way and the general anxiety of such tumultuous times.

There’s a moment in every graduation speech where the speaker reminds everyone to unify in maintaining their lofty ideals and to always treat people with kindness. They’ll say that the world is ours if we’re brave enough to chase after it, and that dreams come true if we work hard.

This is all true, but not what I need to hear right now and not what I want to pass on to you.

My message is this: Be upset. Wallow for a little bit. Text your friends about how much this sucks and post pictures from earlier in the year with sappy captions about senior recitals and championship games. We can make our own transition period. We’re all pretty scared and we’re all entitled to feel so, and sharing these sentiments will remind us we’re in this together as we move forward.

Let the problem have its place and then move on, whenever that may be for you. And if you harbor some bitterness about not experiencing senior week, or getting to walk at graduation or even acting up on campus one last time, that’s okay, too. Just as discomfort breeds strength and growth, a little well-placed bitterness breeds fortitude in its own way.

So here’s to you, class of 2020. We started from the bottom, and we might still be at the bottom. But I suppose we can only go up from here.

Ah, crap. Has my mic been muted this whole time?

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