When SUNY Cortland students were offered time slots for graduation walks to be spread over several days last week, Callie Humphrey made a bee-line to sign up for the earliest possible time.
“This past week, I would say it’s been highly emotional,” said Humphrey, who was president of the campus Student Government Association. “On the one hand, it’s very exciting, because we’re finishing up our journeys at Cortland and getting the opportunity to kind of emerge into the real world, jobs and graduate school. But at the same time, it is a little bit sad to be leaving Cortland and our friends behind, and obviously we didn’t quite get the send off that we’d hoped. I think it’s just kind of like a balance of excitement and a little bit of sadness, leaving this place behind and moving on.”
“We, as an institution, are incredibly, incredibly proud of this graduating class, because they persevered and showed true grit and determination to make this achievement, despite all the challenges and obstacles in front of them,” said Frederic Pierce, director of communications for SUNY Cortland. “This is probably one of the most challenging years SUNY Cortland has ever had. For them to complete the requirements for graduation is truly impressive.”
Earlier in the year, graduating students asked administrators if they could at least walk across a stage to celebrate years of work, even if the COVID-19 pandemic precluded anything else.
“We were afraid we wouldn’t be able to — it was very unlikely that the situation would improve to the point where we would be able to have our traditional commencement,” Pierce said. “Our original plan had been for another completely virtual ceremony, but the students convinced us.”
Humphrey has spent the past year and a half attending class almost entirely online.
“These past three semesters have been extraordinarily difficult, but we’ve managed to adapt pretty well to the virtual environment, as hard as it is,” she said. “I think that it’s only going to make us stronger, as students and as a community.”
For her final year, Humphrey chose to live on campus, meeting with her friends and studying in a near-empty library.
“It’s been weird. I would say it’s definitely quieter, especially in the middle of the day,” Humphrey said. “When you’d normally see hundreds of kids walking around, instead you’d see maybe 20 or 30 that happened to have an in-person class.”
“There was the occasional, small in-person event, or just hanging out with some friends on the quad while social distancing,” she said. “It was those times that showed I made the right decision (to live on campus).”
Humphrey, who plans to start a master’s program in the fall at American University in Washington, D.C. studying foreign policy and national security, says she hopes that future students will be able to return to school with a sense of normality.
“As behaviors change, vaccination rates increase and the economy rebounds, there is light at the end of the tunnel,” said SUNY Cortland President Erik Bitterbaum during his virtual commencement address. “You, as a class, have grown closer for the sacrifices you have made to protect one another, even the simple act of wearing a mask.”