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Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus

What It’s Like Graduating During a Pandemic


By Communication Media | July 15, 2021

Written by Rachel Tang, Bachelor of Business (Management) alumna.


The words “Your graduation is postponed” weighed heavily. “Until when?” we asked.

The pandemic couldn’t have arrived at a worse time. At least to me as a final-year student. A graduation ceremony was something I’d always dreamt of. Waking up early in the morning to dress up, seeing your friends in ceremonial robes with big smiles on their faces, the emotional moment going up on the stage, and capturing photos with your friends for the memories. However, during a pandemic, all these are mere indulgence in our mind.

MY FINAL SEMESTER IN A NUTSHELL

I was in my final semester when the pandemic struck.

There was already a sense of foreboding from hearing the news from other parts of the world. But it still couldn’t compare to the feeling I had when I found out that the pandemic finally landed in Kuching and that I had to be separated physically from my friends and classmates.

Being in your final year means you have to go through Final Year Projects. In my case, I was taking on my Industry Consulting Project (ICP) along with two other subjects. We were in the midst of our early discussions and preparations when suddenly, a full-scale lockdown was upon us, and we were required to stay home for a period of time. As for the university, all classes had to be switched to online learning.

Resorting to ‘other means’ to take a group shot with our clients after our ICP presentation

In the beginning, it felt like something temporary. There was a part of me that thought the virus would settle. But as the pandemic dragged out, we ended up spending our entire final semester online. In a blink of an eye, just as we grew accustomed to ‘Microsoft Teams or Discord classrooms’ and online exams, the semester was over. Degree life was done.

A DIFFERENT KIND OF GRADUATION  

Final-year students went through a different kind of graduation instead of the large-scale do. We experienced what was dubbed the Swinburne ‘drive-thru’ graduation ceremony, and as the term suggests, we had to drive up to the main entrance of the university Multi-Purpose Hall to receive our testamurs. The process felt different, and it went by real quick.

After receiving my testamur, just one look at it made me breathed a sigh of relief and thought, “This is it. I just graduated”. It was a moment just to myself.

Although everyone else went through the same drive-thru graduation, I couldn’t share that joy physically with my friends. I couldn’t see their expressions after years of sharing the ups and downs in university together. I couldn’t see the joy on their faces or feel how they felt when they received their testamurs. We did not get to exchange proper goodbyes to our friends. Everyone disappeared all of a sudden. It felt like there was something amiss about that day.

And just like that, we were out into the adult world. Whether or not we had a ceremony, life had to go on. Graduating during a pandemic didn’t change the fact that I now had to think about my direction and purpose in life.

WHAT DOES GRADUATION REALLY MEAN?

Looking back, I had the time to reflect on what graduation really meant to me. Was it more than just a ceremony? And after my disappointment dissipated, I’d come to realise that while the nature of graduation had changed, one thing remained the same; and that’s the priceless years we’d spent as a student.

So what does graduation truly mean to me with or without the pandemic?

Graduation to me is a collection of distinctive memories from my university days made up of:

  • Skipping my second day of orientation because I was too shy to socialise (which consequently meant that I didn’t know where my first class was located),
  • Being late on my first day of Economics class and everyone stared at me (oops!),
  • Crying with my friend in the eighth floor toilet after our very first presentation,
  • Running from Block A to Block G like a mad woman to submit my assignment (I handed in at exactly 5pm!),
  • Failing Foundation Math (because c’mon!),
  • Lounging with friends at Chillin’ Crib asking “Where to eat for lunch ah?”,
  • The feeling of finally dropping off our completed assignments into the drop-box,
  • Joining the Student Council and volunteer club where I had the craziest and best times in uni.

There are countless more experiences I could name. The absence of a ceremony or the existence of any pandemic can never take away what we felt and experienced throughout our student years. And if it can’t take these things away, it means that graduation is far more than a concept. It’s a process. It’s life as you know it. I realised that graduation was made up of all these experiences. And if we’ve been through that, we’re already graduates at heart.

Knowing this fact made me less bitter, feeling that the pandemic had robbed us off a graduation ceremony. Ceremony or not, we can stand tall and proudly proclaim that we’ve been through all these experiences to reach our current destination.

Being a student was where I found my identity, where I learned my strengths and weaknesses, where I found a group of great friends, where I had burned the midnight oil, where I had my first heartbreak, where I learned to be myself, and where I grew up. Who we are today are because of these little experiences that make up what we call student life.

Now that I’ve ended my student life, I will always miss the university experiences I took for granted. The packed canteen buzzing with activity, the cold and mysterious Block G, the hustle and bustle in Block A between classes, the sweaty gym, the memories spent in the Chillin’ Crib serving as a Student Council member, and even my little corner in the library.

Back then, I was just a youth looking in awe at my seniors in graduation robes, talking about things I didn’t understand. But now, I know. This isn’t the end of our journey. In fact, it’s only the beginning of new lessons, responsibilities, and challenges. No matter who we think we are, or how much confidence we have in our abilities, I know that we’ll be able to make a difference. Our graduation journey continues.

“What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside of you”. – Ralph Waldo Emerson.