Graduation

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Chandni graduated cum laude, was a student representative for her department, worked for a while as a student assistant and occupied the post of campus columnist. All that without setting foot at the university. Able to enjoy her graduation ceremony in Utrecht, she couldn't help but get a bit emotional. 

I went through a lot of emotions that day. It started with a lot of anxiety. I was bringing fresh fruits and veggies for the boat ride after the ceremony and I was worried I might not have enough food for everyone. I woke up early to cut and clean everything — tomatoes, cucumbers, and apples. I packed them into convenient Tupperware containers, constantly wishing for company. I felt even more alone when the zip of the dress I intended to wear got stuck and I had no one to help. By then, I was late to meet a friend. In a whirlwind of panic, I put together an outfit that was hopefully appropriate and "cyclable". I loaded my bicycle with everything and then biked the fastest I had ever cycled in the Netherlands.

The ceremony was at an old church and since the whole faculty of social sciences had their graduation that day, it was crowded. I sat down among familiar faces to hear the dean’s address and later the valedictorian’s speech. It was cool to recognise some of the Faculty and Educational Board members whom I had only seen online. After the short common session, we moved to the University Hall next to the Dom Tower for the individual programme. That was my first time seeing the Dom Tower and I was quite confused because of all the scaffolding. The university building was in itself quite a sight to behold. The garden, with its gothic gate and high arches, made me feel like I had time-travelled. I missed my people like a constant ache but they caught my ceremony online and (thanks to wifi in the university building) I knew they were with me. I had never been to a graduation ceremony where supervisors would spend so much time talking about my work. It was quite fulfilling and I was glad to have made it to the end of the degree.

I really didn’t want this period of my life to end. I wanted to be part of the university and part of my department for just a little bit longer. I felt cheated out of my chance to just be a student. I am not ready to decide what I want next. Not having my family with me aggravated this fear. I didn’t have anything else to hold on to. Especially in a foreign country, there was so much security being part of the university and I needed that for some more time. These were overwhelming fears and I wished that I had my family to see and hold on to.

I still smiled a lot. A friend waited outside the door as we walked in from the Domsplein. “Do you want to come to sit next to me?” She sat next to me and when it was my turn, took pictures and gave me a hug. I am so grateful for that hug and all the others I received that day. I really needed them. At another time, when I was awkwardly waiting for families to move to the reception, another one of my friends slipped quietly next to me and handed me a bouquet. “This is for you. Congratulations!”. I was not expecting that. After the reception, we went on a boat ride through the canals. A symbolic marking of our journey, I suppose. It was lovely seeing Utrecht from the waters. On the boat ride, I had my belly full cause my friends had yet again remembered my restrictions and made gluten-free food so that I could also eat with everyone. I had quiche and cake that made me want to dance. I got to know more about their families and had a lovely sunny day.

When I got home, I was really tired and I had little energy. But there were so many people who pushed me to finish this degree and supported me through it all. I definitely could not have done it without them. So, a very long evening of calls ensued. I had finished an MSc by research degree (with a cum laude!) without attending any classes in person at my university. It was an extremely lonely time during the pandemic and sometimes I struggled a lot to feel part of something. I was a student representative for my department and the core team member of a wonderful student journal. I worked for a bit as a student assistant and I am a campus columnist. Most importantly, I made friends and I am a part of their community. All of this without setting a foot on campus until right at the end.

As this period of my life closes, I think I should just rest assured that I gave this my best regardless of the circumstances.

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