This is the first story in a four-part series in which students set to graduate in May reflect on how their final semester at Illinois State University has been impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Maggie McReynolds is earning a bachelor’s degree in mass media. She plans to move to Colorado Springs, Colorado, in the fall and pursue a career in communications.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020, was a difficult day for all Redbirds. Particularly, the graduating seniors. March 17 is the day that the University announced that classes would officially move from face-to-face instruction to online. 

I never would have imagined that my last day to attend classes at Illinois State would be the Friday before spring break. I remember that I was beyond ready for a vacation (a much shorter one than what ultimately was given) and I could not wait to leave campus. It was just like any other day and now looking back, I wish I could have taken the time to appreciate what I was so eager to have a break from.

Throughout my college career, I had never thought much about graduation. I assumed it would be just like any other day, except I would wear red, white, and black regalia, sit in Redbird Arena with thousands of my peers, and shake President Dietz’s hand as I completed my journey as an ISU student. I now realize that I took it all for granted. 

Despite being unable to attend my original graduation ceremony, I appreciate Illinois State’s efforts to celebrate the class of 2020 digitally and through the option to join the upcoming December graduates’ ceremony.

It is a confusing, disruptive, and unfamiliar time that we are currently living through. But I have learned that it is OK to feel frustrated, sad, and to mourn everything that has been canceled due to the pandemic. I have felt all of these emotions and more plenty of times since Tuesday, March 17.

One comforting thought that has helped me and can hopefully help the entire class of 2020 is that I am not alone. Graduation is not being yanked away from just me. Missing out on my final college memories is not happening just to me. It is happening to all of us graduating students. That does not necessarily take away the pain that we are all feeling, but I believe it helps put our experience through this into perspective. 

I feel even less alone knowing I am part of the Illinois State Redbird family. It is a tight-knit community that supports and loves one another, especially in times of adversity. 

College graduation is an event that for some students, like myself, will only happen once in a lifetime. While this is not the most ideal situation, I know that I will always have my Redbird family to support me for years to come. 

Because once a Redbird, always a Redbird. 

For information about commencement, visit the Graduation Services website.