A long-awaited season, the time of graduation is near. Laughter, hugs and congratulatory praises frequent the scene as happy crowds fill up schools and institutions. Friends and families carrying bags of gifts take onto the streets, an occasion once again thriving with flower deliveries. Seniors don upon their dark blue gowns, excitement and pride surging as they wait for their anticipating audiences and the ceremony to begin.
Graduation ceremonies have long been observed as a day of giving. Flower bouquet s and gifts taking several forms, from beautiful flower assortments and wrapped vegetable medleys, to small keychain memorabilia and huge fluffy toys, are exchanged throughout the day. Graduation bouquet or physical gift-giving, such gifts, from the start are already known to be the best addition of love and joy in these times of celebratory occasions. They serve to applaud the day of fruitful achievements, and to commemorate the students’ years of hard work and efforts in this chapter of their lives.
However, as the current coronavirus marched itself around the world, the global pandemic caused has shut down the movement of everyday life and scheduled events – including all graduation ceremonies. With schools in lockdowns and prohibition of all large group gatherings, the long-awaited celebration has also been subsequently, cancelled.
The streets are empty and quiet, absent of the expected bright flower bouquets of roses or baby-breaths, and the big bags of teddy bear soft toys. Deliveries through the island during COVID-19 frequent to only be those for meals, more than the anticipated flower delivery from before. Students receive their graduation certificates through emails and say their final regards to these schooling years through social media or other online platforms. There is no ceremony or get-together, and in a time where friendship and bonds built during school curriculums are celebrated, graduating in 2020 is done alone.
As a student graduating this year, I am one of the many mourning the cancellation of the ceremony. I related to and reposted many “social awareness” posts, as well as signed the “Postpone Graduation Ceremony rather than Cancel” petition. However, other than such efforts, I have only mostly contributed to staying at home – merely one of the many defeated students who had their bittersweet receive of their digital certificate, resigned to being part of the “cursed class of 2020”, and accepted that the sole rays of hope retained this season might just be the still ongoing flower gift and flower delivery services during this COVID-19.
The position of helplessness and frustration is also shared by many of my friends in the same batch. As film students, we had the honor of showing our final year project to the entire participating audience should it be selected – which happened to be my group. News of the cancellation caused outrage within our group chat, our chance to see our fruit of hard work on a big screen, gone. Adding on, in lieu to finally graduating, I have booked tickets to Korea and Taiwan with different groups of friends for our graduation trips. With flights and travelling discouraged, and our parent’s insistent disapprovals, our anticipated getaways were cancelled. Alongside with the current hazy paths for the future, the cancellation of our graduation ceremony ultimately came to only be the tip of the disappointment iceberg in graduating during the year of a global pandemic.
Before the virus overtook our everyday lives, there was a tradition that my closest group of friends and I always had – To give flower bouquets to each other during any form of celebratory event. Birthdays, showcases, performances, you name it, we probably gifted it then. With the disadvantage of almost the entire group having a goldfish memory, we always rushed to flower shops early in the morning before we had to surprise the receiving friend. Most of the time, the flower shops were always still not open, and we would always laugh, reminding ourselves to get the flowers the night before, or at least go to the shops slightly later than we normally would. “Maybe we should start getting flowers delivered to each other’s houses so at least we can preserve sleep while getting things done.” That has always been one of our favorite memories when it comes to celebrating anything among our group. For years during graduation seasons, we would joke about wanting a gift “as extra as that” or “as many chocolates as that” whenever we saw people carrying their gifting bouquets. So, when we got our graduation dates, we have promised to run around the entire Singapore, buying specific flowers for each other (Sunflowers for me!), and to make sure everyone’s graduation was properly celebrated and gifted. Ever since the start of this tradition, I have gradually come to appreciate the meaning of gifting flowers, and at times, the thought so etched in, it became a force of habit.
I remember the first time I attended an official graduation ceremony, I was excited the entire day. I was born an only-child so I had never been to any older sibling’s graduation before. Thus, the entire idea of going to an official graduation with seniors in long robes and huge graduation gifts exchanged like the norm was a foreign idea that I only saw on my friend’s social media posts for 17-year-old me. I had befriended a Year 3 senior then when I helped out in another schoolmate’s project, and a few weeks before his graduation, he had invited my friend and I to the auditorium after the ceremony to take some photos. My instincts had kicked in that day, to get flowers for the celebration as the tradition with my friends have trained me to do, or at least to get a graduation bouquet delivered for more efficient purposes. However, due to having morning classes and the memory of a goldfish, I went through school that day flower-less. Before the official graduation ceremony, my friend and I saw our senior on his way to the auditorium with his group of friends, suited up, hair gelled. We have joked about it then, that this was the first time he ever looked good. “Then shouldn’t you guys have gotten me flowers?” he had said. We laughed about it, but after all, flowers were my form of sincerity, and the thought of how I could have been a better friend lingered at the back of my mind.
Nearing 7P.M, with my classes finished for the day, the commotion of the graduating seniors still heard in the school hallways, talking about the times they have spent there, my friend and I made our way to the auditorium. We smelled the flowers and heard the crowd before we even reached them, and to see it was a notch more eventful. It was exactly like how I thought it would be – groups and groups of people gathered together, taking pictures, some crying some laughing. As we found our senior, conveyed our congratulations and gave our hugs, I could not help but admire the various scenes before me. Some boyfriends and girlfriends surprised their partners with rose bouquets and their favourite cartoon character soft toys, and other creative ones wrapped chicken nuggets with ribbons and pastel felt. Students received different flower assortments from families, and others were lucky to get an early dinner starter with the different vegetable and fruit alternatives they receive from their friends. Deliveries of flower baskets filled and celebratory gift packages make their way to the auditorium, as the school is congratulated for yet another successful year. It was a day where the air of excitement and festivity was a character of its own, and I understood more than ever why seniors went on about “how they wanted to graduate so bad.”
By the time Year 3 rolled around, we have become the batch of students lined up next for graduation. School work and projects have taken the better of us, and barely anybody was walking around well-slept or even sane – to anticipate and prepare for the graduation of our current seniors was out of the question. Still, as we received the message from them that they are at the first floor of our faculty building, we headed down to them anyway. After all, they have helped us so much with advice for our own projects, and we have seen their own share of sleepless nights and endless hard work – more than ever, they deserved every form praise and well wishes.
Even though graduation ceremonies don’t blow me away as much anymore, to see another batch of seniors donning upon the same graduation gowns, teasing and joking among each other felt as humbling and joyous as ever. I felt proud to call them my seniors, and was sure that the school is more than eager to call them its students. Drowning in piles of assignments, I greeted my seniors empty-handed, facing this year’s congregation as more of a warm personal gathering rather than a huge celebration. However, as one of my seniors gave my friends and I a small handmade bouquet of baby-breaths, my thought of this particular year’s event backtracked – it will never be just a warm personal gathering for graduates. It was their day, and no matter what, even with the smallest of gestures, they were going to celebrate this day.
I watched as seniors took photos with the wackiest of poses. As they greeted their lecturers who teased them even as their pride was evident on their faces. As they laughed at the different gifts they have received, carrying them around like they are the most precious presents they will ever hold. As they looked around the school, at the facilities, at the people, at the markings they have left behind, like they are saying their final thank yous. This time, I smelt no flowers nor did I see extravagant gifts. Rather, I felt a renewed form of respect for my seniors who have toiled through these academic years, and have fought hard for this day to officially be theirs.
“You are going to laugh at us for being old now, but when we come back next year for you guys, you are going to cry at how you are leaving this home you have built.” My senior has said that to me then, and it was one line that have stuck with me till now. I remember as I wrote my final film’s name on the back of a door that commemorated all of the student’s work. The countless times that my friends and I have discussed what we were going to wear and do and who will cry on the day. The great hopes we had for our post-graduation future and braving new adventures. I remember wanting to write cards for each of my friends, and to want to get them and receive all kinds of presents, be it a compilation of all our photos, or just a simple bouquet of baby-breaths that I have received the previous year. I knew I wanted to celebrate our day like all my other seniors had.
Yet, fast forward a few months later, and here we are. The school stands empty as emails and public announcements caution students to stay home. Where we were supposed to go up the stage, beaming with pride for our certificate, we are going to be in our pajamas joking about our digital acknowledgement through a video call. Planned poses for our photos are swapped for the screenshot of our faces on computers. The only form of flowers I will see this whole season are the ones that my parents have planted (and forbid me to touch), and the only large crowds of laughter and commotion comes from online videos and shows. Once when we counted down the days to our graduation ceremony, we have now lost track of the dates. These are times where life under COVID-19 has become the new normal.
Demoralised and helpless, I have turned to several friends, for and to comfort. “All of us same now la, Netflix is my new best friend.” “One more month and you can see my face again, can one!” Some released their pent-up anger and impatience. “Got one uncle at my temperature taking job very unreasonable!” “I think even my dog has gotten bored of me at home. It keeps sleeping.” All of our conversations ultimately wind down to the same thing – “What do I do now?” Seniors who I have aspired to be on my graduation day, faced the shared struggle of working from home and home-based learning. “We are all in the same boat now”, everyone replies when I asked them how they were doing. I guess we really all are.
One day, a friend, Crystal commented on one of my worries for the future that I have posted online. “You are not the only one here la, don’t beat yourself up for it.” We proceeded to text each other about how we have been trying to handle the situation, a conversation surprisingly a lot lighter than the ones I have had with other friends. I mentioned how it is almost a miracle that I am not fired from my part-time waitressing job considering how dine-in options are now not allowed in Singapore, and she talked about how the media company she was interning at is nearing a lack of projects for its employees to work on. “…there’s pretty much no more new footage to edit, so I really think I might be unemployed soon.” I was ready to offer my usual words of comfort or resonate how we were on the same boat before she continued, “Well, at least youtubers I watch now are releasing a lot more, better quality content, and I finally have the time to watch them.”
That was a stand that I have yet to actually consider. After a whole month of circuit breaker, seeing complaints, constantly added social restrictions and daily worrying headlines, my mentality towards being a graduate in a year of a global pandemic has been wired to pessimism. The world really does look like its on fire, but we forget about something else – what about the good things that are coming out of it as well?
Crystal’s remark made me recall an article headline I read, about the flower museums in America: “The flowers are blossoming more beautiful than ever, but for no one to see”. Now, our world seems to be improving – more bonded communities, sightings of more helpful citizens, the addition of better quality online content, and an improved environment climate.
You see, there is one thing really powerful about a crisis – it allows us to conjure up more instances of hope. As the phrase always goes, “When one door closes, another opens”, a troubling event is really not the end of a tunnel, and neither is a global pandemic. Just the other day, my friend and I sent Starbucks to another friend of ours’ who was feeling down, and her overjoyed reaction was the warmest I have felt in a while. I have also observed on social media, friends getting flowers delivered to comfort their restless peers, after all with flora triumphing fauna to be the rays of hope we have now. Even if our doors seem to all be shut, we ultimately still have the power to help open it for ourselves and others. As cheesy as it sounds, it holds true in times like this.
Until a vaccine or cure is found to conquer the current COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing, lockdowns and masks are going to be our new normal – so is celebrating graduation alone within closed walls. At the end of the day, to graduate is to celebrate the close of something great, but also to await the opening of something else. With no social congregations and photo-taking, we have the rising efficient functions of video calls and screenshots. With no chances of being in school, we have our photos and projects to look back on, leaving as equal a marking as we have left in our classrooms. With no flowers and presents, there are our food and bouquet delivery services, making the festive air of celebrations still a possible character in these current dialed-down events. The future might look muddy, but right now, to graduate is still our day to celebrate.
As for me, I have made plans with my friends to throw party poppers around my room on our graduation day, and to make sure that our tradition is as followed – to get specific flowers delivered to one another, and to make sure everyone’s graduation is properly celebrated and gifted. After all, the flowers are blossoming more beautiful than ever, why not let the people I love see it.
Writer: Yu Han, Singapore.