WashU’s 2024 seniors reflect on their modified high school graduations while looking forward to graduation and commencement

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Illustration by Jaime Hebel

Washington University’s Class of 2024 experienced many disappointments during their senior year of high school due to cancellations because of COVID-19. They missed out on traditional milestones such as senior prom, senior trips, and graduation. For the students who did have graduations, they experienced modified versions with social distancing and masks obscuring their peers’ faces. 

As things have returned to normalcy, WashU’s seniors will get to have a traditional graduation without masks and pandemic-related fear. Although a normal college graduation cannot make up for the missed high school traditions, their upcoming graduation and commencement ceremony will allow them to at least experience an important rite of passage before they begin their careers or pursue graduate education.    

Senior Maddy Singleton described the modifications to her high school graduation because of the pandemic.    

“For my high school graduation they had a drive-through parade and everybody came out to grab the diplomas and to see everyone,” Singleton said. “After that they had a graduation in June for us that was outside and socially distanced.” 

Bristol Hough had a similar experience with her graduation.

“It was on a soccer field where all of our chairs could be spaced out six feet apart and we had to wear masks,” Hough said. “Obviously, it was not ideal, but it could have been worse. I’m glad we got something because I feel like a lot of people did not get anything.”

Other seniors, like Curtis Hung, had their graduation ceremony moved to an online format.

“For high school graduation, all the speeches were online, which was kinda funny, honestly, in a callous humor kind of way,” Hung said.   

Senior Isabela Llevat laughed as she reflected on her high school graduation — not just a drive-through, but one where teachers used plastic claw grabber toys to hand students their diplomas. She expects a bit of a different experience this time around.  

“I’ve always heard about what graduation is supposed to feel like, the catharsis of it,” she said. “With graduation before, I could only really celebrate with my family, so it will be nice to end this year with everyone I began this journey with.” 

Because of all the modifications and cancellations during their senior year, WashU’s Class of 2024 is especially looking forward to their college graduation.

“I’m really excited to spend time with my friends and family and to have a lot of family in town,” Hough said. “I think it [the upcoming ceremony] will have a really nice sense of community without being spaced out and all that.” 

The seniors also offered some thoughts on the choice of Jennifer Coolidge as WashU’s 2024 Commencement speaker. 

“I feel like I’m not aware of anything she stands for, so I’m a little curious,” Singleton said. “I hope that she’s gonna tell us something funny. I think she’s just gonna show up and crack a few jokes.”

Hung believes that Coolidge was selected because she is uncontroversial, although he said she feels disconnected from his life.

“I think that she is aggressively unoffensive, so I wasn’t upset. I was rather indifferent when they announced it,” Hung said. “I don’t expect to be particularly inspired by someone who is on a much different life path than mine.” 

Senior Lyla Renwick-Archibold said that Coolidge was the perfect pick for the class that experienced so many disappointments during their senior year of high school. 

“I feel like she’s perfect. Because I do not want to have a speaker that is like, ‘Oh, your class has been through so much with the pandemic,’” Renwick-Archibold said. “I’m honestly so tired of hearing about that. I feel like it’s nice to have someone who’s gonna be funny and add levity to the ceremony.”

Four years ago, Singleton felt like she missed out on an opportunity to reflect on her achievements and just take a moment to be proud, something she is looking forward to this May.

“I’m definitely sad,” Singleton said. “But I’m definitely looking forward to celebrating everybody.” 

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