Thursday, April 2, 2020

'It just ended': A year cut short for MSU seniors

March 19, 2020
A moment from the Fall 2019 Commencement ceremony at Breslin Center on Dec. 14, 2019.
A moment from the Fall 2019 Commencement ceremony at Breslin Center on Dec. 14, 2019. —
Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

After four years of hard work, journalism senior Rachel Hyams’ family and friends won’t get to watch her accept her diploma. The same goes for all Michigan State seniors graduating this spring.  

“When you have kids one day, you're not going to show them pictures of you graduating,” Hyams said. “It’s just a long list of things. We work so hard for four years, so we look forward to the day we can receive our diplomas — and it's just gonna be a little different now.”

Following all in-person classes being cancelled through the end of the semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic, MSU President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. announced March 14 that commencement ceremonies for the class of 2020 have been postponed. 

“When I read that commencement was postponed in the email, I just felt a sinking feeling in my stomach,” journalism senior Katie Birecki said via email. “This is something that I've looked forward to since becoming a Spartan — feeling the pride and joy in my school as I walked across the stage.”

As the reality of COVID-19’s impact hit seniors, many realized their final year as Spartans was not going to go as planned. 

“My idea of what my senior St. Patrick's Day is would not be sitting at home with my parents and chatting about who knows what at the kitchen table and watching TV with them downstairs,” journalism senior Mattie Milne said. “But, it is what it is in finding the positive in everything that’s happening.”

Many disappointed seniors are trying to adjust to having to add the global pandemic to their list of college memories.

“In the moment right now, I feel like I don't have closure,” Birecki said. “I'll probably still feel like that years from now. Memories of me in Zoom meetings and completing my homework on my bed are all I have for my last semester in college. That's just such a crazy thought to me. It shouldn't have been like this.”

From St. Patrick’s Day to senior pictures to commencement, many won’t get to experience the different “lasts” they were hoping to during their final semester in college. 

As a tour guide for MSU, Birecki has been waiting for her senior tour, where she’d get to invite her parents along as she sported a cap and gown.

“Being a tour guide was a really special time in my life at MSU,” she said. “I not only made tons of friends through the program, I was also able to connect with future Spartans, show them campus, and help them make a very important decision that would shape the rest of their lives. I went on my friends' senior tours — and they're quite emotional — but it's a beautiful way to wrap up not only your time as a tour guide, but your time as a student, as well.”

Milne is an editor-in-chief at MSU’s fashion magazine, VIM, and said she was most disappointed in all the planned events she had to cancel, including a launch party at Foster Coffee Company, a music video and a fashion show at the Breslin Center.

“I was just so upset. I don't normally cry, but it felt like a bad breakup or losing a friend in a way,” Milne said. “It just ended, it was over and I didn't even have a chance to do all these things that I thought I was going to do with some of my best friends that I made at the school that we all loved. So it took a few days to really process it and realize what it meant.”

Seniors are trying to find ways to commemorate their time at MSU and express their gratitude for the university in their own way.

“I'm just being grateful for things that I was able to do throughout my four years here at Michigan State University,” Hyams said. “I'm practicing gratitude every single day, just getting myself active, being active. Not just not sitting in a slump, just staying positive, writing things down that I'm grateful for, things that I want to improve in.”

Despite having her senior year at MSU get shortened, Milne said she strives to maintain a positive outlook.

“Those were all really fun events we're missing out on and they got taken away from us, but people's lives are getting taken away. People's livelihoods are getting taken away from this,” Milne said. “Everyone saying, ‘Class of 2020, of course, you can be bummed and sad about it,’ but in a big picture mindset, I think I'll look back and just hopefully can say we came out stronger in the end. Not just (the) class of 2020, but everyone.”

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