Thursday, June 4, 2020

To The Class Of 2020

Until the spring of 2020, the strangest time that TigerBlog has experienced on Princeton's campus was always the afternoon of Commencement.

The morning bristles with activity and excitement, and there are cars and people everywhere on campus. There are graduates and those who are there to support them, and it's a huge moment for all of them.

Jadwin Gym, usually not completely cleaned up from the prom, never really has a business-as-usual feel for the people who work there. It's hard to stay focused knowing that there's such a huge event that's going on across the campus and that young people with whom you've worked closely for four years are reaching a huge milestone in their lives.

So TB has the same routine each Commencement Day.

He walks from Jadwin towards Nassau Hall and sits on the same stone rock in front of the building, watching the the second half of the ceremony on the big screens and waiting for his favorite part. That's when the grads all walk back out and meet up with their families.

He stands on the grass inside the ropes for that, usually hoping to catch the men's lacrosse alums for a picture while they're all in caps and gowns. Since the men's lacrosse guys tend to be among the last ones out, he'll see members of all of the other teams, men and women who have traded their Princeton uniforms for their graduation attire.

He's seen them win big games and championships together, but their smiles at graduation are different. It's always fascinated TigerBlog, as they have a look of sheer joy at understanding what it is they have accomplished - and what it took to get there.

It's not easy for any of them, no matter how easy they make it look. They all have their moments of doubt, their long nights where they're not sure they're going to get it all done, the day when they realize that they have a practice and a school assignment and how are they going to get both done?

And then, there they are. Graduates. About to head in all their different directions, together again one more time.

Of course, as TB has said a million times before, he always flashes back to freshman athlete orientation, when they all sit wide-eyed (and scared) in McCosh 50 as their journey is about to start. The contrast between that moment and the moment when they get to the finish line is extraordinary.

Once the ceremony ends, everyone starts to scatter. As TB said, they all go their different ways - to jobs, to grad schools, to travel, to wherever. They leave, and who knows the next time they'll all be together.

And once they leave, the campus gets quiet. Eerily so.

It goes from a week of the Gary Walters Princeton Varsity Club Awards Banquet to Reunions to Class Day to graduation. The campus is loud that entire time. There are crowds everywhere. There is laughter and music and dancing and parties and all of it.

And then it gets silent. And stays that way most of the summer.

The Class of 2020 didn't get to experience that this past week. They didn't get to spend most of their final semester on campus.

That makes what they accomplished even more impressive. They had to deal with the sadness of the timing of the global pandemic, and they had to leave campus almost on a dime.

And then they had to fight through all of that to finish their thesis and their final classes and take their last exams. And they did.

Even after that, everything would end up being online. The PVC banquet. The P-Rade. Ultimately graduation itself.

It was something new for everyone involved, and TB would say that everyone who contributed in any way to making those moments the best they could deserves some serious credit. Those efforts all could have fallen flat and yet none of them did, and TB thought all of the ones that he saw (especially the banquet and the P-Rade) where excellent.

The Class of 2020 is a special one. It'll always be a special one.

TB would guess that in years to come being a member of the Class of 2020 will be like a badge of honor for most, as as soon as they say what year they graduated, everyone else will know what they went through and will show their respect for it.

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