University graduations are typically synonymous with caps and gowns, the moving of the tassel and audiences of friends and family gathering to celebrate the occasion. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, college commencements have not occurred in person, leaving graduates and their families left to share the occasion from home.
Unfortunate circumstances did not, however, prevent the class of 2020 from celebrating the momentous occasion, which was held virtually on May 17. The Brown and White talked to recent Lehigh graduates about their undergraduate experiences and how they celebrated graduation with loved ones.
During the remote learning period, Arianna Pineiro, ‘20, had to move around four times because of her lease expiring and simply because she wanted a safe environment to live in.
She and her boyfriend ended up sheltering in place around Lehigh, which was the best decision for her as an immunosuppressed person.
Even with the quarantine, she was been able to keep in touch with members of her sorority, Lambda Theta Alpha, and hosted a viewing party with her castmates from Blithe Spirit, which had finished its run before COVID-19 safety measures were implemented.
Pineiro majored in biology and minored in theatre and apparel design and celebrated the commencement on a Zoom call with members from both sides of her family.
Even though the conditions weren’t ideal, Pineiro was happy to commemorate graduation with her loved ones.
“All I ever wanted was to be able to celebrate this ending portion with people who I love and want to be around, but I wasn’t sure whether that would happen because my relatives are spread out all over the states right now,” Pineiro said. “So just having everyone be able to take an hour and hop on Zoom and just be in that moment with me, was very special.”
Afterwards, she and her boyfriend enjoyed some Chinese food and ice cream cake.
Even though she wasn’t able to see her mother for some time, Pineiro took graduation photos with her on Mother’s Day, all over campus.
“It was really special to go to all the places that described me on campus and take photos there to commemorate my time at Lehigh, to say my final goodbyes to those spaces,” Pineiro said.
Abby Gabriel, ‘20, reflected on speaking with her mother about the way her senior year ended.
“Instead of a gradual ending, it was kind of like jumping off a cliff,” Gabriel said.
She said it was hard to go back to school to pack her belongings without being able to say proper goodbyes. Like many other seniors, Gabriel returned to campus this week to finish packing up her off-campus house.
Gabriel, along with her twin sister, step-sister and cousin are all graduating from college this spring. Her younger sister is also graduating from high school.
“My whole family was kind of going crazy,” she said.
They made their celebration as nice as possible with dinners, champagne and decorations. Gabriel watched her virtual graduation and celebrated with her friends through Zoom. For Gabriel, the day was bittersweet, but she believes family made it the best they possibly could have given the situation. She plans on attending Lehigh’s in-person commencement, for which a date has yet to be announced.
Receiving degrees in both accounting and business information systems, Alexander Trani, ‘20, at first didn’t believe he’d be finishing his senior year from home.
Being in a fraternity, it was hard for Trani to cope with not being able to say proper goodbyes to his brothers. Many of them live across the country, so he doesn’t know the next time they will all be together again.
“We have a diverse group of guys who aren’t from the Northeast, so being cut off so quickly seemed hurtful,” Trani said.
Trani was able to celebrate from home with his family. They viewed Lehigh’s virtual graduation celebration on their TV and enjoyed desserts as the Alma Mater faded out.
Though she just earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology with a developmental concentration and minors in Spanish, Africana studies and Latin American studies, Gabriela Montes, ’20, will also be completing her masters in elementary education at Lehigh and expects to graduate in 2021.
Montes said the transition to remote learning was difficult in terms of lecture classes, but she also found familiarity in the experience, as some of her professors from the College of Education had taught online classes before.
In terms of coping with stay-at-home measures, Montes started to do yoga with friends as a way of staying connected and practicing self-care.
“I feel like Zoom and FaceTime make it feel like we’re super connected, even though we’re all far away from each other,” Montes said.
Montes has been staying with her boyfriend throughout quarantine, but went home to New Jersey to celebrate graduation with her family.
Her parents decorated the inside and outside of her house with graduation decorations and got her flowers and a cake. She wore her graduation dress, along with her cap and gown to watch the virtual commencement. She also received a mock diploma and handshakes from her siblings, while her mother played graduation music in the background.
“This was nice because it made the day feel special, despite the unusual circumstances,” Montes said.
Throughout her Lehigh experience, she was a member of Lambda Theta Alpha and worked for the Community Service Office.
“I found different families through different club memberships, which made Lehigh feel like a home,” Montes said.
Jared Scharf, ’20, was due to start working in tech consulting in August, but his start date has been pushed back to October.
Scharf was in Lehigh’s integrated business and engineering program and specifically studied industrial engineering and finance. Despite engineering being a more hands-on-field at times, Scharf felt as though the transition to remote learning was not very stressful.
“I thought the transition was easier than I expected,” Scharf said. “On the first day of Zoom classes, I was thinking, ‘Oh this is so weird, how am I going to do this for several weeks?’ But after a week, it seemed pretty normal.”
Even with classes being done, Scharf said he is trying to stay busy and has been handling quarantine fairly well.
To celebrate graduation, Scharf had a gathering with his family members the night before, where they had a social distancing celebration on his driveway, sitting in chairs and eating pizza. On the day of graduation, he watched the virtual commencement with his family and girlfriend.
“I think in general, Lehigh has been handling things during this time pretty well,” Scharf said. “I am looking forward to the in-person graduation, whenever that will be.”
Jaspreet Bains, ’20, was involved with many student organizations during her Lehigh career. In addition to being a member of the South Asian Students Association (SASA), she was a Lehigh After Dark ambassador and she was the captain of Leela, an all-girls cultural dance group.
She found the transition to remote learning difficult, both academically and socially. Bains majored in accounting. She reflected especially on the activities she missed this spring, such as running Holi and performing with Leela in Dance Fest.
Bains has been staying connected with her fellow Leela members via Zoom. She has also been staying in touch with friends and participating in a weekly game night with her senior friends.
To celebrate graduation, Bains and her family had dinner together. She said it didn’t feel as though she had graduated and that she and her family are looking forward to the in-person graduation.
Bains is appreciative of organizations on campus and the friends she has made through them.
“I would encourage everyone to try something new, join clubs and meet new people — to put yourself out there,” Bains said. “And most importantly: have fun.”
Joseph Recupero, ‘20, spent time as a Gryphon, sang in Lehigh’s Off the Record a capella group and gave back to Bethlehem through the Community Service Office before his time at Lehigh was cut short.
“Even though it was senior year, there were still so many faces that I wanted to get to know better, there was a lot of what I’d felt was unfinished business that I wanted to wrap up on campus,” Recupero said.
For graduation, Recupero “popped a bottle of champagne” and tuned into Lehigh’s celebration stream. He also watched Graduate Together, where prominent figures including Lebron James and President Barack Obama celebrated the graduating classes of 2020.
Of the many traditions that Lehigh honors, Recupero will miss “Study Jams,” an event put on by the Office of Multicultural Affairs to help students decompress before finals.
Recupero encourages students to find ways to integrate themselves into the Lehigh community, especially Bethlehem’s South Side. He highlighted Spring Fling and Spooktacular, two CSO sponsored events, as ways to connect with the South Side while still on campus.
Mitul Surti, ’20, found remote learning challenging, but is appreciative of the ways Lehigh helped him to better adapt to the circumstances.
“Usually when I’m home, it is on vacation or it’s the summer and it is mainly just doing random, aimless things,” Surti said. “So it was hard to go to classes while being in the mindset of being on vacation, but after a few weeks, I got back into a routine.”
Surti, who studied electrical engineering, is grateful that he was able to go on a spring break trip with his friends, even though they all came back to the news of classes going remote.
He has been staying connected with friends via Zoom and has been playing games such as Jackbox.
Surti used Zoom to celebrate graduation with his family, where they watched the virtual commencement together. He was also surprised by a neighborhood car parade, and his parents bought him a bottle of champagne, which he popped in their front yard.
“It is so nice to see that everyone has the attitude to somehow find some way to make things work,” Surti said. “It was amazing, so I am really thankful for my friends and family putting that together.”
As a first-generation student, Surti is grateful for the guidance and resources that Lehigh staff members provide.
“Don’t be afraid of taking advantage of the opportunities that are at Lehigh,” Surti said. “This was one of the reasons why I was able to have such high points during my time here.”