Reba Williams of Smithfield Library Reflects on Graduating Amidst COVID-19

Reba Williams of Smithfield Library's is a Class of 2020 Graduate, receiving her MLIS Degree from UA
By Reba Williams of Smithfield Branch Library

The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa postponed its commencement planned for May over fears of spreading the coronavirus — one of what is likely to be many such college ceremonies to be reconsidered in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A library assistant at Smithfield Branch Library, I have worked full time for 20 years at BPL and in my spare time took three to four classes per semester in pursuing my degree in MLIS (Masters in Library & Information Studies) at UA. The hard work paid off as I am graduating this year with all As and just one B.

To have something you're looking forward to for so long get suddenly taken away was really hard on me as a graduate student who had been  excited about the commencement ceremony originally scheduled for this May.

I shouldn’t be thinking about these things. In this crisis, there are more important issues that I should be focusing my feelings toward. But as a graduate who had devoted so much time and energy towards this moment, and I couldn’t help myself but feel upset.

Earlier this year, I had no idea about a notification that popped up on my phone, bringing the world as we know it to a halt a couple of months later. I open the CDC article detailing a virus sweeping across China, devastating their cities, and crippling their resources. I shivered at the thought of thousands sick and hundreds of thousands at risk.

The cancellation of an event like a graduation ceremony may feel minor when considered in the broader scope of the health and economic tragedies resulting from the pandemic. However, when such rituals are disrupted, it can cause disorientation for graduates.

I think the first thing that we need to do is acknowledge the loss. When a student works hard to obtain what’s needed for other opportunities, acknowledge the disruption. Do not take take it lightly.

We are symbolic beings; we derive meaning from actions that are symbolic. Yes, of course, we will be OK without graduation or a postponed ceremony.

Despite that disappointment, most of us Alabama graduates agreed with the University’s decision to postpone Commencement to Friday, July 31 and Saturday, August 1.  The graduates and the University have dealt with a very difficult situation, and this move was made with extreme sensitivity and consideration for the welfare of students and the public.

The students have worked very hard and deserve to be celebrated. They earned the right to walk with pride and to have a proper graduation ceremony. These students also need closure and to have the opportunity to say goodbye to their friends and the place they have called home for the last year and a half.

COVID-19 did not stop, it only delayed the celebration. #ROLLTIDE#