By Sean Leonard
Almost a full year after their virtual graduation and parting from the College, the Class of 2020 celebrated their graduation on campus during the weekend of April 24 and 25. In order to follow Covid-19 protocols and allow each graduate to invite four guests, there were seven separate ceremonies with each academic school. The full schedule and recorded live streams can be accessed from the TCNJ Commencement website and similar ceremonies will take place from May 19 to 21 for the Class of 2021.
Stefanie Hernandez-Mendez graduated in the Class of 2020 and majored in health and exercise science. She said the format of the graduation was done well given the obstacles faced with Covid-19 restrictions. Hernandez-Mendez also said that she had a lot of family members who wanted to attend, but most of her family watched through the livestream.
“Although I liked the smaller feel of the in-person graduation, I missed out on seeing and graduating with other friends that graduated at different times or dates of in-person graduation,” Hernandez-Mendez said. “Regardless, I am grateful I was able to walk across the stage as it is a memorable moment that I know many other schools have not allowed their students from the class of 2020 to do so because of Covid-19.”
Although Hernandez-Mendez said she has remained in touch with some friends from the College, she said the ceremony allowed her to catch up in person with others.
“It was nice to see familiar faces, even if it was with masks, and get to catch up. As for professors, just from passing I was able to see one but I would have liked to chat afterwards and possibly get a picture, which I did not get a chance to do,” Hernandez-Mendez said.
Hernandez-Mendez has been busy since graduation and interned this past fall at St. Lawrence Rehabilitation Center in Lawrenceville where she works as a rehab technician. She said it has been a rewarding experience.
Malachy Joyce is another 2020 graduate who started his career after majoring in interactive multimedia at the College. Last summer, Joyce started working as a content director for a North Carolina startup called Max Out Media. While he had to move to North Carolina for his job, he was able to return to New Jersey and celebrate his graduation with his mother and the rest of his peers.
“Started out bumpy for me, but now we are cruising and I am all for it. The only thing I miss about college life is the fact that it got cut short without a proper goodbye. I think with this recent visit back to the school a lot of that has been resolved,” Joyce said. “I thought grouping the graduates by department as opposed to major was probably one of the best decisions the school could have made, given the circumstances.”
Joyce also said the graduation was a reminder of how fast his college experience went.
“It is strange to think that college is over. It went by pretty quickly, but I suppose that is a reminder to myself to try to live in the moment more. That is something that I’ve been trying to work on,” he said. “Put in what you want to get out of your classes. Hard work is rewarded, but also remember to set aside time to enjoy time with others. Life is short and it is cliché, but it is true.”
Melissa Novak is a Class of 2020 graduate who majored in mathematics secondary education. Like Hernandez-Mendez, Novak enjoyed the format of the graduation because it made the guests more comfortable and staggered the crowds.
“Since it was one school at a time, the ceremony went by a lot faster than it would have if it was everyone at once. It wasn't a long, drawn-out ceremony, it was nice and to the point. The only disappointing part was not being able to sit with close friends who were part of other schools,” Novak said.
Novak said she keeps in touch with many people from her graduating class about job searches and how their families are doing; her entire major even has a group chat that shares advice for teaching and lesson plans. She said it was amazing to see and catch up with many of her peers in person.
“It was so amazing because when I saw all of the people from my major at the ceremony, it felt like we had never left. It felt like I was going to see them all in Capstone class on Monday even though it's been a year. I love that feeling that no time has been lost,” Novak said. “I couldn't find some of [my professors] afterward, but seeing them definitely made my heart happy because they were some of my biggest supporters throughout my whole experience.”
Novak said it was difficult not being able to finish her senior year with traditional activities like Funival, spring picnics and living in her dorm for the last time. She also said that the in-person graduation lost some of its meaning since it has been a year, but she was still grateful to experience it now.
“Even though this year's ceremony wasn't ‘traditional,’ the best part of it was finally getting to walk across that stage. I thought that I might never have that experience of actually getting my name called at graduation, but it was definitely worth the wait,” Novak said.
Since four years fly by for most students, Novak said current students should take advantage of every opportunity the College has to offer, besides their weekly classes.
“Study for your classes, be a part of clubs and do research, but also go out with your friends, go to the spring and fall concerts, walk to the Lib Caf at midnight for some knockoff Starbucks and go to Funival even if it’s raining. Do everything because you never know if the opportunity will be ripped away from you,” Novak said.
Hernandez-Mendez had similar advice and said students should frequently get out of their comfort zones and develop relationships with other students and professors who will support their journeys at the College.
“Let failures motivate you to try harder for the next obstacle you face, and keep going. Do not let others tell you what you can and cannot achieve, as you are more capable than you may give yourself credit for,” said Hernandez-Mendez.