First-generation students are the first in their families to graduate college. With commencement being canceled, first-generation students discuss their feelings. (Sally Gu/B&W Staff)

First-generation students react to postponed commencement ceremony

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First-generation seniors are left waiting indefinitely to walk across the stage on graduation day for the first time in their family’s history. 

The 2020 commencement ceremony, originally scheduled to take place May 17-18, has been postponed to a later date at the guidance of health professionals and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Students all around the world recognize commencement as an opportunity to celebrate and reflect on their hard work and fulfillment of their studies. For first-generation students at Lehigh, commencement not only serves this opportunity, but also represents a milestone of which they are the first to accomplish in their families. 

First-generation students, Larrisa Miller, ‘20, Raahil Amarshi, ‘20, and Stephanie Huynh, ‘20, said they are upset, but ultimately value Lehigh’s decision in its postponement. 

Larissa Miller, ’20

“I’m definitely bummed,” Miller said. “It is a big event but, in the light of a pandemic, keeping people safe and keeping our distance is far more important than a ceremony.”

Although the traditional in-person ceremony is meaningful to both Lehigh students and families, some  face the possibility of not being able to attend at the postponed date.

Amarshi is an international student from Tanzania, and his family resides there. He is living in Bethlehem in off-campus housing since Lehigh moved to remote learning. 

Amarshi said he is no longer certain whether he or his family will be able to attend the ceremony due to unknown future commitments. He said being able to attend will depend on when the commencement is scheduled for, what commitments he has with his future job and what commitments his family may already have. 

Miller said she expects her family will be able to attend, as she plans to have a job in the Lehigh Valley area.

“I think that we do plan on going on the day it’s postponed to, but while it won’t quite be the same, it’ll still be nice to walk across the stage,” Miller said. “My parents are proud of me based on graduating, not based on some ceremony.”

Raahil Amarshi, ’20

While students await the new date of the commencement ceremony, Miller said she is in pursuit of a full-time job and plans to later attend graduate school. Amarshi said he will be working for a start-up company, Unqork, as a technical implementation specialist. Huynh said she has a job lined up as an associate solutions analyst at Vitech Systems Group.

While commencement is not canceled, Lehigh plans to mail students their diplomas, in addition to holding a virtual celebration at the end of the academic year when degrees will be granted. 

Although Amarshi said he is disappointed about the postponement of the ceremony, he said he believes  this change has been more difficult for his family.

“It’s definitely tougher on my family than it is on me because my family has been planning for this moment ever since I got to college,” Amarshi said. “But, I think what’s good about this situation is that the school is planning to postpone rather than to cancel the graduation, which makes me feel more confident that my family will be able to experience it.”

Stephanie Huynh, ’20

Huynh said she looks forward to still receiving her diploma, and she said she is thankful everyone she knows is healthy.

Huynh is the second in her family to graduate college and said she recognizes the importance of this event. However, she and her family also acknowledge the importance of what is happening in the rest of the world during this time.

“It’s a huge deal for me to walk across that stage — even if it’s much later than intended,” Huynh said. “This has definitely been an adjustment, but, like most people, we’re worried about staying healthy and returning back to work.”

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