The Class of 2020 engaged in a bit of time travel over the course of their long-awaited in-person Commencement Celebration Weekend, which took place June 2-5, 2022.
In the warmth of the perfect weather, the former classmates lounged on Foss Hill, gathered in the residence halls, shared meals and events together, and danced under the tent on Andrus Field. For a few days, they were able to interrupt daily life and experience the end of senior year feeling that COVID-19 took away.
“I wanted to meet the special group of people who had decided to redo the past, this time hoping it feels more like what it ought to have a couple of years ago,” said Associate Professor of Sociology Robyn Autry, who delivered the faculty address at Sunday’s celebration.
“It is nice to be back with a different perspective and being in a more grounded place,” said Lucia Bernardo ’20.
President Michael Roth ’78 recalled the difficulties of 2020 in his welcome to the graduates and their families. “It was hard not to cry. Today too, but for a very joyful reason,” Roth said.
People were excited to be back on campus but the uniqueness of the circumstances that brought everyone together was never far from anyone’s mind.
In speaking with members of the Class of 2020, there is a sense that the excitement of embarking on adult life has been tempered by the anxieties of the past few years. They sought a path the world was not able, ready, or willing to provide.
In her speech, Class Speaker Caroline Bhupathi ’20 expressed the uncertainty that many of the graduates have felt. As she said, life hit quickly and it hit hard.
“I felt stuck in limbo, trying my best to figure out what to do with the time, energy, and resources that I had available to me during something as unplanned as a global pandemic. I thought, ‘How am I supposed to take my next step without being able to take my first one?’” Bhupathi said.
For many graduates, that first step was a precarious one, but once they made it, they were on their way.
Audrey Lam ’20, Jo Jo Diaz ’20, Kaitlyn Thomas-Franz ’20, and Tessa Ury ’22 all played rugby together and were excited to come back and scope out their old pitches. They spoke of graduate school and new jobs, and in almost each instance, a period at home before heading out into the world.
After Wes Diaz got her master’s to teach English to middle and high school students. The pandemic gave her an intimate perspective on some of the societal inequities the pandemic unearthed. “It’s definitely a dog-eat-dog world since the pandemic,” Diaz said. “How do we help people to be happy again?”
Olive Wexler ’20 and Claire Fowler ’20 reveled in reconnecting with old friends. “It finally feels like we are back,” Wexler said, in reference to the pandemic. “In every group (of friends) there is a lot of success,” Fowler said.
Even for parents and loved ones, the weekend offered the opportunity for closure. It was important for Gene and Naomi Canfield P’20 to celebrate their son Jonathan’s 2020 graduation. Gene Canfield said that returning to the dorms with Jonathan and the rest of the family this weekend reminded him of moving in freshman year—and moving out quickly at the end of 2020. “We say that this is more for my mom than my brother,” said Jonathan’s sister, Rebecca.
When Princeton Carter ’20 returned to campus this weekend, he was immediately swept away with a feeling of nostalgia. It didn’t take much for him to feel re-engaged with the Wesleyan vibe. “It feels like I came back home,” he said. “Everyone has grown but no one has changed.”
When the Class of 2020 graduated in 2020, they were told they were the solution to the problems the world faces, Bhupathi said, a daunting thing to consider. She urged her classmates to be gentle with themselves in the face of everything—finding self-fulfillment is crucial, she believes, in order to fulfill their larger responsibilities.
“I finally said something to myself that I want to say to all of you: You are exactly where you are supposed to be. Now, I do not mean to say this as if you were destined to be here—rather, I mean to say it as in ‘you are doing just fine,’” she said.
Two years after they initially celebrated their graduation from home or in private gatherings, the 2020 graduates gathered in-person on campus, hugging and taking photos, and they were all, right now, just fine.
View additional photos below and in this Wesleyan Flickr photo gallery. (Photos by Olivia Drake and Tom Dzimian)