More than a walk across a stage

Sherri Gardner HowellFarragut, Kitchen Table Talk

Virtual college graduations – how do today’s graduates feel about them?


I think it’s easy to assume that this change for the 2020 graduates might be harder on us “old folks” who want to see our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews take part in a traditional milestone. After all, today’s youth embrace the “virtual” world, so is it really that big of a deal for them?

Thanks to a friend, Vicki Wells, I had the opportunity to ask a graduating senior at the University of Tennessee. Beccah Lynn Blevins was graduated from UT with a chemical engineering degree from the Tickle College of Engineering.

Beccah embraced her college days from the beginning – becoming a member of the Pride of the Southland Marching Band, serving as president of the Sigma Alpha Iota International Music Fraternity, participating in the Engineering Mentoring Program and serving as secretary and social media chair and taking a position as scholarship chair in the Phi Sigma Pi National Honor Fraternity.

Beccah Lynn Blevins

Her high school days were spent at Lenoir City High School, and she remembers how much she loved her high school graduation ceremony. She was looking forward to a spring UT graduation and to sharing it with her parents, Kevin Blevins and Genny Blevins, and other family and friends.

One of the rituals she had been planning for was decorating the mortar board of her graduation cap.

“I’ve wanted to decorate my graduation cap since I started college, but it became a search initiative for a design in August,” says Beccah. “When I became a senior, it became important for me to follow in the footsteps of my friends and mentors who had already graduated and do something that would express my individuality and my pride in what I had accomplished.”

She decorated her cap with a scene from Peter Pan and a quote from the J.M. Barrie novel. It was the quote that she embraced: “It’s amazing what clever girls can do!”

Beccah says, “The significance of the scene I chose was more for the quote than the movie. I wanted to do something Disney-related, because I grew up with Disney so close to my heart. The quote is from the novel and was not put into the 1953 Disney animation film. I chose to have them fly over Ayres Hall instead of London because it is such a landmark building at the university.”

Beccah’s cap has a favorite quote from J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan.”

Her boyfriend, Carl Myers, graduated from UT also, with a degree in journalism, and Beccah decorated his cap, too.

Beccah decorated the motar board of her boyfriend, UT journalism graduate Carl Myers.

As far as her feelings about missing the traditional ceremony, Beccah boiled it down to the set of emotions that graduation brings with it. “What I miss the most about not having a traditional ceremony isn’t the pomp and circumstance, it’s the feeling I would have gotten on stage. There’s something so moving when you climb those steps. I remember that feeling from my high school graduation, but this is different. Not everyone has the opportunity to go to college, not everyone gets to make the choice of their degree or has the courage to challenge themselves. I wanted to be able to feel that swell in my chest, that pride and relief at what I accomplished, as I received my diploma. I know the lack of a ceremony doesn’t erase my accomplishments, and it surely doesn’t make me any less proud of myself, but it does muffle the feeling.”

While she says she absolutely believes postponing ceremonies was in the best interest of all involved, she admits to “processing it as best I can, in my own time, by trying to make the best out of my time at home and remembering the fond memories I have from before the university closed in March.”

The hardest part, was recognizing all of the things I thought I still had time to do, but didn’t. Annual campus events that I hadn’t been to yet, plays I wanted to see at the Clarence Brown, other senior recognition ceremonies.

“But this situation is not something that can be changed, so I just accepted that the safer I am in my everyday practices, the sooner life can get back to normal.”

And most telling to me, in all of the thoughts Beccah was kind enough to share was this last statement, from a young person who has grown up with technology and certainly embraces the world she lives in:

“If life gets back to normal, hopefully we will be the only class that has a virtual commencement.”

Sherri Gardner Howell has been writing about family life for newspapers and magazines since 1987. She lives in West Knoxville, is married to Neville Howell and has two sons and three grandsons.

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