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Being part of the Class of COVID-19

by Monica Smith

Apr 16, 2020, 9:00 AM.

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Graduation reflections amid coronavirus from an online learner.

In two weeks, in spite of what’s happening in the world, I’ll have my master’s degree from Florida International University in hand, which I pursued completely online. The feelings are mixed, though. While I didn’t have the abrupt shift like those who transitioned to remote learning, I still mourn my graduation along with them, I also lament that my induction to Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society was canceled. I won’t be wearing the sashes, medals and cords I excitedly ordered at the start of this final semester anytime soon.

I will walk, though. I’ve come too far, and it means so much for me and my family—the sacrifice, the effort, the accomplishment. I’ll have that confetti moment with FIU President Rosenberg—eventually…whenever that time comes. And while the thought of that day keeps me going, there is also sadness. The grading reward system for this adult learner is going away. There is a realization that I’m part of a group of students everywhere—we’re the Class of COVID-19. For many, things are difficult and devastating.

On the other side of that, I rejoice that after 18 months, freer nights are coming, that we’re all well, my husband and I still have jobs and health insurance, and I’m looking forward to catching up on shows everyone’s buzzing about. With safer-at-home orders, I’m forced to relax, breathe, pay attention to the little things, and have deep conversations with our teenage children, my husband and my fluffy dog Ryder who’s a really good listener and loving the new normal with his entire pack at home, every day.

From navigating Canvas, the digital platform to access classes, to returning to school after 26 years, and wondering if I could do it, I feel a sense of pride that I finished strong. Along the way, I sat at the dining table with my children, all of us with open laptops as we did our homework together. Admittedly, takeout pizza and frozen chicken nuggets were on the menu more than I’d like. As a working professional and mother, it hasn’t always been an easy load to handle, but I’m emerging with new skills and knowledge that have shaped me and will offer new possibilities. I am grateful.

It’s not lost on me the impact my journey has had on my children who look at me as somewhat of a warrior. Eighteen months ago, we stood outside, the three of us, in the front of the house on the first day of school so my husband could snap our picture. I proudly posted that picture on social media. I was and am proud to be a Panther, and while this ending isn’t what I had in mind, I know that the best is yet to come—it has to.

In spite of it all, I remain optimistic. I know that we will do better and things will heal. We will all be more creative through this confinement. I was so looking forward to the day I’d be able to walk across that stage at commencement and hear my name called out on the loudspeaker. It would have been an awesome day, and it lives in my mind. I’m dreaming that it will still happen.

For now, I hear my name being called from down the hall…asking what’s for dinner. And as I rise from the dining table and from working remotely, I walk toward the kitchen to start dinner, but I imagine the confetti, the claps and cheers, and President Rosenberg waiting for me in my kitchen saying, “Well done, well done.”

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