It’s hard to forget NSO Convocation in the fall of 2016.
All I heard was “N, S-OOO, N, N, S-OOO” echoing throughout Blake Arena with clapping to a rhythm I clearly missed the memo on. I didn’t recognize a single face in the sea of strangers. Honestly, I was still trying to wrap my head around how my “beanie” somehow was classified as a beanie to begin with.
But the one thing that stuck was when they said four years from then, in the spring of 2020, we’d walk across that stage and graduate.
The Class of 2020.
We all had envisioned how that moment would feel. How that day would look.
It’d come after a senior week for the ages — a week-long goodbye to our friends, teammates and the place we called home.
A lot of our bodies and minds probably would’ve been in rough shape that morning. But, our spirit never would’ve been more full, and holding the brunt of that triangle together.
None of us envisioned graduation would be in the Field House with a fraction of our classmates 18 months late.
I wasn’t sure if I’d even go, and I wasn’t alone.
Not because I didn’t care or it wasn’t “what it was supposed to be.” I wasn’t “above” graduating and it had nothing to do with any hostility towards Springfield College.
I want to be clear: We all understood why we couldn’t graduate during a global pandemic. We can’t blame anyone except the universe for that one.
I’m just at a different point in my life now. A few months ago, I fulfilled a dream covering the Tokyo Olympics and now I’m gearing up for the Beijing Olympics.
If COVID-19 has taught me one thing, it’s recognizing what really matters. Walking across a stage 18 months late to get “closure” just wasn’t my top priority.
It was for some, though. In the last year and a half, we’ve been told to “see the bigger picture” and that it was selfish to be upset about not walking across a stage when there were much more pressing issues.
My heart goes out to the students who are the first in their family to graduate and finally got to soak up their moment walking across that stage. Or the ones who never thought they’d see that stage and managed to pull it off.
That is the bigger picture. That should be a priority. I just felt I was in a different place mentally, I’d moved forward, which is okay too.
But you know who hadn’t? My mom. She’s been asking for a photo in my cap and gown for the last year and a half. I’m happy to report she finally got her photo.
I wasn’t alone, either. Everyone I talked to said they went to graduation for their mom (or dad or other family members). And, Springfield College knows a thing or two about family.
When COVID-19 crushed our senior year, the Class of 2020 rallied one last time in the Townhouse backyards. We had senior-day celebrations for our spring athletes who stepped off the field without knowing they played their last games. Programs pulled together for their own twist on graduation — Townhouse style.
That’s what families do, especially in the midst of unforeseen circumstances. As Emily Van Horn said in her Undergraduate Welcome speech during graduation, “Our class was given the biggest damn bag of lemons.”
They brought us even closer, despite living apart in our final weeks. So, while I was glad to formally graduate, seeing my Springfield College family was the heart of what brought me back to Alden Street.
I heard how Colleen creatively figured out which kindergartener wet their pants while teaching P.E. And how those lifts in the weight room paid off for Alex, who won an Oktoberfest competition for holding a stein the longest. I even found Jules, my old teammate who hosted me for my overnight visit as a recruit in the fall of 2015, in the mob of people afterwards.
I ate pizza with Marty and the newspaper editors down by the park, where we saw Evan, Jack, Danny, Joe and Irene’s frisbee skills (or lack thereof). I think we collected all the frisbees shanked into the woods. I’m just glad Danny didn’t give me a concussion this year.
I saw my COSJ family, the people I lived in press boxes and courtside in Blake Arena with. Look at us now. We’ve moved past the newspaper office, SCTV3 studio and The Birthplace radio station.
That’s what made this non-traditional ceremony special. It doubled as a reunion. I’ve never been more proud of my classmates than now, after hearing what everyone has done amid some of the worst possible circumstances to job hunt.
I wouldn’t have had that chance without graduation. President Mary-Beth Cooper and Springfield College promised we’d walk across a stage in our academic regalia, and they made good on that promise.
So, as I looked around the Field House that morning, was it what I had envisioned? No. Not even close.
But our beanies had become caps.
That sea of strangers had become family.
And as for the NSO cheers… We even had some of those, only this time I actually knew the rhythm. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get those out of my head.
Class of 2020, we did it. Finally.
Photo Courtesy Gabby Guerard