PEI

P.E.I. university students disappointed with virtual graduations

P.E.I. university students who attended school out-of-province are disappointed they didn’t get to celebrate their graduation in person. Three of those recent graduates shared their experiences of virtual convocations and finishing a difficult school year.

'You worked so hard for those four years in hopes of walking across the stage'

From left to right: Julia Campbell, Lauryn Reeves and Nour Houdeib all graduated from universities that did not hold in-person convocations for its 2021 graduates. (Submitted by Julia Campbell, Lauryn Reeves and Nour Houdeib)

University students on P.E.I. who attended out-of-province schools are disappointed they didn't get to celebrate their graduation in person.

While 2021 graduates at the University of Prince Edward Island and Holland College celebrated with small in-person ceremonies, the COVID-19 restrictions in other provinces would not allow for such gatherings.

Three recent graduates from P.E.I. shared their experiences of virtual convocations and finishing a difficult school year.

'An emotional year'

Julia Campbell from Summerside — who just graduated with a master of science in biology from Mount Allison University — said this past school year "was a lot more lonely" than usual.

Julia Campbell graduated from Mount Allison University with a gold medal for earning the highest average of all graduate students. (Submitted by Julia Campbell)

"For what can already be kind of an isolating experience as a grad student being at such a small institution, it was definitely heightened this year," Campbell said.

Campbell did not take any online courses as she was just completing her thesis during the last year of her degree. However, she said it was difficult during the school year "to call your peers or your supervisor over Zoom or Microsoft Teams and have that natural conversation."

Because there are so few master's students at Mount Allison, Campbell said she might not have even gone to convocation even if it was in-person. But she was disappointed that she only got to defend her thesis over a Zoom call. She doesn't wish the event was in-person though, as holding it online "was definitely safer for everyone."

Looking back, Campbell described the last 12 months as "an emotional year." She got to visit her family in P.E.I. a few times throughout the school year, but it was always a bittersweet reunion.

"Every time I saw my family and my partner it was like, 'I don't know when I'm going to see you again,'" Campbell said.

Campbell was with her boyfriend in Nova Scotia when Mount Allison held its university-wide virtual convocation on May 17.

"The online ceremony was very anticlimactic," said Campbell. "But that's expected and I don't blame anyone for that.

"I was in my home office looking at a computer screen and seeing my name flash against the computer. So we didn't exactly do a whole lot to celebrate that other than make pizza."

Disappointing end to a degree

"I was actually in quarantine for my graduation, which was upsetting," said Lauryn Reeves from Summerside, who graduated this spring with a B.Sc. in nursing from St. Francis Xavier University. 

Lauryn Reeves from Summerside says 'everyone's had to give up some sort of celebrations' because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted by Lauryn Reeves)

Reeves was back home in P.E.I. self-isolating with a friend as they watched her university's live virtual convocation on May 7. She said it was nice to at least hear her name being read out loud in the video. 

"We were just kind of in our PJs on the couch watching it," said Reeves.

"At the end of the day it is very disappointing because you worked so hard for those four years in hopes of walking across the stage and getting recognized for all your hard work and your accomplishments," Reeves said.

While she wishes she could have celebrated her graduation with her whole family in person, Reeves said during the pandemic "everyone's had to give up some sort of celebrations and make the most out of it."

'Didn't feel like I graduated'

Right after she finished her final exams at Dalhousie University, Nour Houdeib from Charlottetown moved to Quebec for three weeks to complete military basic training. She then moved back to the Maritimes for her summer job in the Royal Canadian Navy. Amid all the hustle, she never got a chance to celebrate her graduation with her family and friends.

Nour Houdeib graduated from Dalhousie University with a degree in mechanical engineering — but she never got a chance to celebrate her achievement. (Submitted by Nour Houdeib)

"They congratulated me and everything, but we never got to do anything special," said Houdeib, who just earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering. 

Dalhousie aired a live virtual convocation on YouTube on June 9, which Houdeib watched alone in her room. She said the ceremony "didn't feel personal."

"I didn't feel like I graduated," she said. "I felt like, 'Oh, you know, I'm done finals. What's next?'"

Houdeib was frustrated her graduating class also did not have their iron ring ceremony. (Across Canada, graduating engineering students participate in a ceremony where they are given an iron ring and reminded of their important responsibilities.)

Houdeib said she did, however, appreciate the congratulatory video Dalhousie's engineering faculty sent its graduating students.

Dalhousie, St. Francis Xavier and Mount Allison are all planning to host in-person convocations for this year's graduates in the future whenever COVID-19 restrictions permit large gatherings.

More from CBC P.E.I.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tarini Fernando studied English and creative writing at Dalhousie University before joining the CBC P.E.I. team. She can be contacted at tarini.fernando@cbc.ca.

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