Dear Class of 2019,
The week of 30 March – 3 April 2020 was supposed to be a week of celebrating academic excellence. Celebrating all of you who overcame adversity; self-doubt; fear and endless hours of studying. Sacrificing sleep to show not only yourself but the world that you can do ALL THINGS you set your mind to. Instead, you were robbed of this very special moment by something called COVID-19 or as we all know her, Aunty Rona. A pandemic that forced us all in lockdown, protecting ourselves from the virus that has already taken thousands of lives.
I am a part of you. I too was supposed to graduate with my BA Honours degree in Journalism on Tuesday 31 March at 09:00 at Stellenbosch University. I was looking forward to this day for months. I would see my former class again; we were going to celebrate at our old department afterwards. I could already see the smiles on everyone’s faces as we saw each other again for the first time in months. Hugging and sharing our experiences of adult life. I even had my graduation outfit picked out. A special outfit, celebrating a special year, spent with very special people. This time around, I wasn’t going to be an anxious mess. I was going to redeem myself, by not allowing anxiety to steal my moment again.
So naturally the news of being forced to graduate in absentia really hit me hard. All my expectations, shattered. But something that hit me even harder was the revelation that many of you who were supposed to graduate for the first time would not be able to do so. Not be able to drown in your toga, trying to figure out how exactly to carry the sash, whilst remembering to follow all the steps, while you smile for the camera and try not to fall down the stairs as you get handed your degree. The piece of paper you worked SO HARD for. The piece of paper you sacrificed sleep, money, and sometimes even questioned your identity for. A moment you dreamt about for years. YOUR moment.
I know many of you felt the same as me. Maybe even worse. Reminiscing on what was, and mourning what could have been. I found myself tearing up every time someone congratulated me on social media; every time I saw old photos of my honours classmates; every time I listened to a song that reminded me of 2019, and every time I thought of you who would’ve been the first in your family to walk on that stage accepting such an honourable achievement.
I allowed myself to mourn, and I allowed myself to celebrate. Mourning the day that would’ve been and celebrating the victory that came. Victory over your mental health; victory over your self-doubt, and victory over every single fear that told you this moment would never come.
So give yourself a round of applause because you did that! You achieved what many in your family, many of your peers, and many of your childhood bullies thought you couldn’t. I am so proud of you, and eternally grateful if you played a role in my journey towards this moment too.
Class of 2019, I see you, I salute you, and I am so proud of you!
Lucian van Wyk, BA Hons Journalism graduate Class of 2019