US ‘Seniors’ Miss Out on Their Final College Memories

04 April 2020

In Baltimore, Maryland, the news came during Act 1 of Puccini's "La Rondine."

Johns Hopkins University students were performing their final dress rehearsal of the production at the Peabody Conservatory. Then members of the university community received an email from the school's president. He was cancelling all nonessential gatherings because of the coronavirus.

The students quickly contacted their friends, who came to watch what would be the show's only performance. It was not the only event Johns Hopkins recently cancelled.

In this March 14, 2020 photo provided by Jaimie Kirkpatrick, Boston College seniors pop champagne beside the Tree of Life sculpture on the school's campus in Boston.
In this March 14, 2020 photo provided by Jaimie Kirkpatrick, Boston College seniors pop champagne beside the Tree of Life sculpture on the school's campus in Boston.

The school has cancelled ceremonies for students who successfully complete their study programs. It also cancelled many other events and traditions for "seniors" -- students in their final year. So have many other colleges and universities across the United States.

Most of these schools have asked students to return home because of the spread of the virus.

Nick Grace is a senior at Endicott College outside of Boston, Massachusetts. He told The Associated Press (AP) he took one last walk around the grounds of the school before leaving.

"I've been following the news, and it doesn't look like (graduation) is going to happen any time soon," said Grace. "If we don't have our celebrations, we're kind of robbed of our end-of-year ceremonies."

At Peabody, Hannah Alexandra Noyes started crying during her performance in "La Rondine." She said it was not because the story they were performing was sad, but because her final year of school was.

The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine is world famous and active in medical research on the coronavirus. Johns Hopkins reports that by the end of March, over 140,000 Americans were known to have COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. As of last Monday, the were at least 2,500 COVID-19-related deaths.

As millions of people worldwide have sheltered in place to slow the pandemic, most U.S. colleges have taken action to protect their students and employees. They have cancelled sporting events and artistic performances and sent students home to finish the spring term online.

For seniors preparing to graduate, it was a sudden end to what was not exactly four years of late-night friendships and all-night studying. And with widespread bans on large gatherings soon to come, many students hurried to create one more memory from their college days.

In New York State, Colgate University senior Caroline Barrett joined other students in an all-night vigil followed by a swim in nearby Taylor Lake.

"At that point it was we either do it this night or never. Tomorrow we shouldn't be doing anything in bigger groups," she said.

Other Colgate seniors hurried to give out their Torch Medals, which honor a member of the school or local community who influenced their time there.

Before the cancellations, more than 500 Boston College (BC) seniors stayed up all night to watch the sunrise over the Chestnut Hill reservoir. Louisa MacEwan is a senior at BC. She said the past three years have already been difficult for her, so she was hoping this year would be better.

Since speaking with The AP, MacEwan has developed signs of COVID-19 and remained in her off-campus apartment home.

"It's going to be different receiving a diploma in the mail versus walking across the stage, and sharing those experiences with my friends," MacEwan said.

It is a tradition at Elon University in North Carolina for all first-year students to receive the seed of an oak tree as a gift. Normally, the school then gives seniors a small tree to plant at their next home.

"I wasn't super upset about it, but it's kind of sad that we're the only class that's not going to be able to do it, in however long that's been going on," Elon senior Ari Denberg said. "All those things I was planning to do over senior week, it's hard not getting that closure."

At Rice University in Texas, students traditionally walk through the school's main entrance, known as the Sallyport, only twice. They do it once during their first-year welcoming ceremony, and again at graduation.

After being told they would likely finish the term online from their homes, senior Christina Tan created a Facebook group to organize an unofficial ceremony. About one-fourth of Rice's 1,000-member senior class took part.

"People were crying when they saw how many people were there," said Tan. Students were worried the school would oppose the event because of an expected limit on large gatherings. Instead, some professors took part and even Rice President David Leebron came out from his office to take pictures.

"I was just so moved by the whole thing," he said. "(There was) that sense of sadness, but taking that difficult situation and finding something to do that made everybody who is there feel a little bit better."

I'm Pete Musto.

Jimmy Golen reported on this story for the Associated Press. Pete Musto adapted the report for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

dress rehearsaln. the final practice of a play that is done with all the costumes and scenery that will be used in the first real performance before an audience

nonessentialadj. not completely necessary

graduationn. the act of receiving a diploma or degree from a school, college, or university

pandemicn. an occurrence in which a disease spreads very quickly and affects a large number of people over a wide area or throughout the world

vigiln. an event or a period of time when a person or group stays in a place and quietly waits or prays especially at night

campus - n. the area and buildings around a university, college, or school

diploman. a document which shows that a person has finished a course of study or has graduated from a school

versusprep. used to present two different things or choices that are being compared or considered

upsetadj. angry or unhappy