Graduating from university is one of the most rewarding experiences in a student’s academic career. With the limitations brought forth by the pandemic, the graduating class’s walk across Convocation Hall to receive their diploma has turned to a walk across living rooms as graduates’ names scroll by on a screen. However, graduates are trying to make the best of these trying times. The graduating class of Spring 2021 reflects on their favourite undergraduate experiences and their takes on having a virtual graduation.

Jahnae Jones-Haywood, Criminology and Ethics, Law, and Society 

Reflecting on her undergraduate years at UTM, Jahnae Jones-Haywood says her most memorable experience was the launch of her petition calling for a mandatory anti-racism course at U of T. She explains that this allowed her to be an activist for topics that she holds dear to her heart. For Jones-Haywood, this was a defining moment in her academic career, an experience she will always reminisce on as a catalyst for her work in activism. 

Jones-Haywood’s advice for undergraduate students is to “talk to your professors and TAs when you need help.” She explains how it is important to get to know people, build connections, and take advantage of any opportunities that may arise. A student’s undergraduate life is filled with endless opportunities; whether they choose to take a chance on their success is all in their own hands. Jones-Haywood also mentions that it is also equally, if not more, important to take care of one’s health.

Regarding her virtual graduation, Jones-Haywood says, “I am beyond disappointed. I understand that it’s our reality, but it does not mean it does not hurt.” She explains that graduating from university means a great deal to her as she was not able to partake in her high-school graduation experience. Jones-Haywood believes the largest drawback of graduating amid a pandemic was that many opportunities were cancelled. She mentions that numerous great experiences she planned and looked forward to for her final year did not pan out because of the lack of ability to network. 

Despite this, Jones-Haywood explains that friendships kept her motivated through many challenges during the year. “This past year challenged everyone’s interpersonal relationships like never before and it showed me who I cared about most and who cared about me,” she elaborates. 

Jones-Haywood hopes to return to U of T to attain her law degree. She explains that she takes a lot of pride in being a U of T graduate and is excited to have a traditional graduation when she returns.

Bhavdeep Virk, Political Science

“Whether my graduation ceremony was online or in-person, nothing can take away from the fact that I am incredibly happy and content with my years at UTM,” says Bhavdeep Virk as he reflects on his undergraduate experience at UTM. Although Virk is not thrilled about being a virtual graduate, he is grateful that his undergraduate journey has reached its end.

While the pandemic has proven to be difficult in many aspects, Virk still believes that he has just as many opportunities as the previous graduating classes. “At the end of the day, post-grad is entirely dependent on what you make of it and what you choose to pursue and do with your time,” elaborates Virk. He emphasizes that he has not allowed the pandemic to discourage him; if anything, the pandemic has only helped build his character.

Virk elaborates that he is grateful for the creation of memorable friendships with individuals who continue to inspire him. “From people excelling academically to those that taught me about personal fulfilment and happiness, I am beyond grateful,” says Virk as he speaks of the friendships created at UTM.

Nikolas Kilik, Criminology and Sociology 

Regarding his undergraduate experience, Nikolas Kilik says that he is thankful for having met such memorable people at UTM. He is happy to have found stable friendships with different individuals, providing him with the opportunity of creating lifelong memories. Another experience he thoroughly enjoyed was winning intramural leagues. Kilik says, “Playing on those teams with my friends was always a blast, and to win and have our work rewarded was really nice.” 

When he first found out he would be graduating online, Kilik was disheartened. He was disappointed he would not be able to walk across the stage or capture graduating pictures because of the pandemic. However, Kilik has now moved on to see what is next for him in his future. “I see more opportunities for my future career since the transition of work and school to online [platforms],” explains Kilik.

To UTM undergraduates, Kilik advises them to “find something you like, or are passionate about, and focus on that.” Kilik’s path to choosing his majors was not linear, switching programs a few times in his early undergraduate years. He explains that once he understood where his passions and strengths laid, he was able to deduce the program that well suited his expertise. Kilik hopes to take his future one step at a time and begin by travelling once the looming pandemic reaches its course.

Tomasz Glod, Political Science and History and History of Religions

Reflecting on his undergraduate years, Tomasz Glod says that his most memorable moment was in his first-year history class. “Professor Mari Cowan put up a photo of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, and she talked about orange garnished eels. The eels were depicted in the famous painting, even though that food would not have been eaten during Jesus’ time,” he explains. Glod says that this lesson has stuck with him throughout his academic career as it encouraged him to think about “the way we insert ourselves into history, to make it more appealing and digestible to us.” He believes that this moment created a constant reminder to read history critically and be able to think beyond what is written on paper.

“The biggest lesson that I’ve learned is that university is so much more than just the academic world,” explains Glod. He says that although academia plays a major role in a student’s university career, he believes that there are so many more lessons to be learned outside of the classroom setting. A fundamental component of building a genuine education experience is being able to learn beyond the walls of the lecture hall, whether this is through friendships, networks, or just interacting with other individuals.

Glod states it would be pointless to argue that students graduating virtually have equivalent opportunities extended to them as previous graduating classes. He says that one of the most important experiences as a graduating student would be to establish a sense of connection and belonging with professors. With classes being online, Glod expresses that this interaction was difficult. “Those small informal interactions that we would have been able to have with professors before or after classes could have fostered stronger relationships,” elaborates Glod. This sense of connection is important, especially when looking for references for future endeavours, but also for students wanting to establish a form of community with their professors. Glod says that since students graduating virtually will not be able to build these relationships, they will have to go about trying to salvage the smaller sense of community established through Zoom. 

The Medium congratulates all U of T Spring 2021 graduates and wishes them the best in their upcoming endeavours. No matter the circumstance of their graduation, there is no doubt that the graduating class’s hard work will be rewarded in many other ways as they continue on their journeys. 

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