Commencement during coronavirus: Moving through the mess as a graduating senior

On Wednesday, March 11, I went to an evening rehearsal for a peer’s piece that was to be performed at the American College Dance Association (ACDA) that weekend. I’m not sure whether we were hopeful or simply in denial at that point, but we gathered in our electric-green-walled studio at Loyola University and rehearsed a piece about “lollipop moments” – moments that change your life for the better.

On Thursday morning, I woke up and went to the last classes of my undergraduate career. Tears ran rampant through the classes of Loyola’s close-knit dance program. Our warmup was a harmony of shaky sniffles. Every movement channeled extra intensity and care. The ballet barre was full of mournful eye contact. We lingered in the studio dazedly after class.

It felt like so many blows at once: no closing performances or finished projects. No final ACDA trip with my best friends. No more opportunities to itch with senioritis and excitement. No “last classes” that feel like a gently closing door rather than an exile into alien territory. No more choirs in which to sing, no more dorms in which to live. No “Goodnight Moon,” college campus edition. 

Each year comes a time for the birds to be poetically kicked out of the nest. But ours feels a bit more like Alice’s rabbit hole, where we’re not quite sure if we’re falling or floating anymore and a bunch of other curious individuals are falling right with us. Our mama bird dance professors are yelling after us, “I’m so sorry! I wish you had more time! You’ll do great!” and the white rabbit is another professor rearing for us to hit the bottom running so his new online syllabus schedule isn’t interrupted.

Tragedy seemed to follow us as social distancing cut our community mourning short and friends relocated to their childhood homes. We watched the ever-climbing severity of COVID-19 cases across the U.S. as an influx of online work added to our anxiety. It keeps moving so fast. I still feel like I’m trying to stay afloat in a heavy current, getting caught in places of hope and then being shaken free of them, being pulled further downstream into God knows what. And everyone is trying to help, but everyone else is hurting too, and that is both comforting and additional pain.

We have the learning opportunity of a lifetime, whether in school or not. The last dance class I took at school was surreal. Ends and uncertainties give us insight on the beauty of a practice. How would you take class at the end of the world? What would matter?

The fact that you are dancing with other humans, and that’s about it. I had assumed so much about my “foreseeable” future. Living in the present is a mental health disaster kit I am still working to stock.

Some days it seems appropriate to mope over the loss of senior year and the stress of online courses. Most days now, with some distance, those things don’t hold a candle to the overarching anxieties of being alone, hardly by choice, with no end date. And is my family OK? Are my friends? Are their jobs? Will we be OK when it’s over? When will that be? I’ve been told that it’s best to give myself time to mourn a loss, but I’m at a loss for which loss with which to begin, and my assignments on “Hamlet” are due first.

We lost so much of the culmination of our college education: things that can’t be taught through alternative assignments, things that can’t be felt through social distancing—it’s so much to accept. The graduating seniors and I are feeling a lot, and it’s mostly unpleasant right now. But I’m reminding myself that patiently sitting with this discomfort is essential as I wait for my busy brain to find new normalcy and give my amygdala some gentle coaxing.

Right now, it’s just a mess. But it’s a mess! And the child-sized mud handprints all over my sidewalk are reminding me that we artists don’t exist without mess – if we don’t make it, it makes us.

To cope with my anxiety, I recently wrote down all my fears. One bullet-point said, that the world will not improv, although I had meant to write improve. To that, I would say that I hope that the world will improve from this in some way – that there is necessary and rational significance to this wild event. But if there’s one thing I know I don’t need to fear, it is that the world will improvise. We are, above all else, resilient with challenge and creative with change, and we have the power to turn anything into a “lollipop moment” with proper attention.


Lydia Jekot, a graduating senior at Loyola University Chicago is from Dallas, Texas. As an endeavoring freelance artist and writer, she will earn B.A.s in English and dance (with or without a commencement ceremony).

Our Readers Write is a See Chicago Dance series in which we turn the keyboard over to you, and let readers share their thoughts on anything related to dance in Chicago. Previously, readers have shared their own personal journeys, interesting stories about hallmark figures in Chicago dance, and other essays and stories that span the gamut of what dance is about.

A disclosure: The editor is a part-time faculty member at Loyola University Chicago