To the Class of 2020

This past week, graduating Obies received their caps and various parting mementos in a box — commencement on delivery. Parents are taking photographs in living rooms and on front lawns across the country and around the world, while friends organize celebrations over Zoom. Today is not the Commencement Day that anyone expected. Where alumni, family, and friends of graduates would usually flood Oberlin, we now gather in front of our computer screens while storefronts slowly begin to reopen in Ohio. While this editorial would typically appear in the Review’s annual commencement issue, this year’s reflections have transitioned to an online platform

It is hard to process the end of one’s college career when college is not ending in the way that anyone expected. But today, we hope that every graduate feels proud of themselves — because we are immensely proud of you. 

This pandemic has brought profound loss — loss of loved ones, jobs, social connections, and routine. Here, we also want to honor the little things that were lost, the rituals and traditions that punctuate the end of an undergraduate career: students leaving their last classroom; standing in line for the final Splitchers; walking across the stage in Tappan Square to finally receive a diploma; saying goodbye to loved ones and beloved places. 

Commencement marks a great accomplishment and an intimidating transition into post-graduate life. The question “What comes next?” is more loaded than ever at a time so defined by uncertainty. Coming of age during COVID-19 will define our generation in many ways, and the disruption caused by this pandemic is an unexpected end to a chaotic four years at Oberlin. This graduating class’ College experience has been marked by Trump’s election and presidency, the Gibson’s Bakery protests, the development of One Oberlin, and UAW organizing — now, it comes to a close with the tough transition to remote classes. 

Many students come to Oberlin because they are passionate and driven individuals who want to be part of a like-minded community in pursuit of a more just world. The Class of 2020 knows from experience that caring can be hard, that compassion can be exhausting, that sometimes just getting by can feel impossible. They know that believing one person can help change the world is challenging, especially when the world is changing in ways that are beyond our control. 

But today, we ask the graduating class to think back on their arrival at Oberlin — moving into a dorm, meeting intimidating new roommates, and frantically scrambling to make friends. Writing that first paper, taking that first exam, and slogging through that first finals week. Struggling in a class or learning something exciting and talking about it late into the night. These last four years haven’t been easy, but you have all grown so much and come so far. 

Through the transition to remote learning, we have all become starkly aware of what makes Oberlin special — the connection to friends, mentors, faculty, and staff who form this community, and the connection to a small Ohio town that brings us together. Although graduates had to say goodbye earlier than planned, we know that they will take those bonds with them, and we look forward to welcoming them back to campus for Commencement next spring.

The traditional pomp and circumstance of Commencement — dressing up, handshakes, hugs, taking photos — create a space for students to say farewell, to find closure. To the Class of 2020: We hope that wherever you are, you are able to mark this moment with loved ones. It feels strange and unnatural to commemorate your undergraduate achievements far from Oberlin’s campus. But wherever you may be, you have earned a moment to name and honor the accomplishment of coming this far as only you can. 

There is no physical space where we can come together and celebrate this graduating class, so we want to say the words here: You did it. Congratulations!