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I received an email this week that immediately brought me to tears. It was from my daughter’s college, and it was informing me that my daughter had invited me to attend her graduation. It gave the time and location of the ceremony and ended with, “Enjoy celebrating her special day!” The email also stated that her college promises to “deliver an amazing graduation ceremony experience for its graduates.”

It wasn’t as if I didn’t know that this graduation was coming. I had booked a VRBO for the event a year ago, and I had recently purchased plane tickets for her stepdad and myself to attend. But something about that email made it real to me.

Four years ago, my daughter was in her senior year of high school. On Friday, March 13, 2020, she came home from school not being sure if she would be returning to class on Monday due to a virus called Corona that had been spreading across the world. That Friday the 13th was the last day of her senior year in person. She would not walk the halls of her high school again and would complete her senior year online.

I remember that time so well. My husband and I were both teachers at the same middle school, and he and I were both running online “classrooms” out of our house. My daughter was also in her “classroom” completing her high school classes.

My biggest fear at that time was not COVID. Maybe it should have been. But my biggest concern was that my only child was not going to have a graduation. I was not going to see her walk across that stage and receive her diploma.

Expressing those concerns out loud at that time was frowned upon. After all, people were dying from Coronavirus. I should have been more grateful that I wasn’t sick and that, by not having a graduation, we would be preventing the virus from spreading more.

Memes were going around on social media that said things like, “Your grandparents were asked to go to war. You are being asked to stay home on the couch. You got this.” I hated that one. I felt like the feelings of students, especially the ones who were losing their senior year of high school, were just being told to be grateful and not whine about it. I didn’t think that was fair at all. Their feelings were real and valid. My feelings were real and valid.

In the end, our town did have a graduation in 2020. We were lucky because a lot of schools in other towns and other states did not get an in-person graduation at all. Ours was on the high school football field. It was a beautiful, sunny evening. The students’ chairs were placed six feet apart. Each graduate could have two guests. The ceremony would be shortened to limit the amount of time the crowd was gathered. It would essentially be just the reading of the names and the delivery of the diplomas. Masks were not required as our state and town were not as quick to enact mask requirements as other places were.

I was so relieved that I was going to be able to watch my daughter graduate. I would have wrapped my entire body in bubble wrap to attend if I had to. The only part of the graduation plan that stung quite a bit was the fact that it was limited to two tickets. My husband, who had been in my daughter’s life since she was in 2nd grade, would not be able to attend. With only two tickets allowed per graduate, that meant my ex-husband and I would be the ones to attend. Hank, my husband, would have to watch the graduation at home through livestream with my daughter’s grandparents. It was far from the celebration it should have been.

A few weeks later, we hosted a graduation party for her at our house. Montana had begun to loosen restrictions, so you were allowed to have fifty people gathered in one place, but you were not allowed to have guests from out of state unless they did a two-week quarantine first. We may or may not have had our graduation party the day before the restrictions were lifted. My sister and nieces from out of state may or may not have been in attendance. I can neither confirm nor deny.

That’s how people were behaving at that time. There was guilt if you did things like celebrating a graduation because some people believed that, even though restrictions were lifting, everyone should still stay home. Every time there was a celebration, even if it was “legal,” there was judgement. It was not a fun time. And the act of celebrating huge milestones should not have come with so much guilt. But that was the time in which we were living.

Even as my daughter started her first year of college, things were not as they should have been. She did not stay in the dorm because it would have been too lonely with everyone confined to their own rooms with no guests allowed. My daughter opted to sign up for an apartment with three other girls that she met online. The apartment living would not be as restrictive as dorm life at that time.

So, we moved my daughter out of state to college to live in an apartment with three other girls. The swimming pool at the complex was closed due to COVID as well as the gym and all other common areas. And all her classes would be online. We were paying full tuition for her to take online classes in the town where her school was located, but she probably wouldn’t be stepping foot on campus that year.

It got worse. After the first week of being there, all four girls in the apartment got COVID. Before they had even gotten to know each other, they were all sick. One girl went home to be with her parents until she recovered. One girl’s parents would not let her go home because they didn’t want her to bring the virus home with her. My daughter decided to go stay with her boyfriend (in another state) because she missed him, and he had already had COVID. I told her not to go. She didn’t listen. Long story short, almost her entire freshman year was spent taking classes online from another state while at her boyfriend’s apartment while we were paying for an apartment in her college town.  But she did pass all her classes, so we decided to continue to pay for a second year of school.

During the second year, she had some in-person classes. The boyfriend moved to the same town as her, and they got an apartment together. And she had gotten a chihuahua in February of her freshman year because she was lonely with everything being online. So, the three of them were now in the same town as her college, and she was finally spending some time on campus and getting to know more people there.

During her junior year, she and her boyfriend broke up. She’s met new people and now most of her college classes are in person. It’s been a bumpy road, but she’s done it! Through all the chaos, she has managed to pass every class and is set to graduate in a few months. And we get to attend!

We get to really celebrate seeing our daughter receive recognition for all her hard work. And we can do it without a shred of guilt on our consciences, as it should be.

I didn’t realize until I received that email this week how much loss I had felt over missing out on a real celebration in 2020. We did the best we could to make it special, but I am moved to tears just thinking about being present in the stands to watch my daughter graduate from college in a few months, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

There are a bunch of 2020 parents and students out there who missed out, and now, four years later, some of us may be getting a second chance to right that circumstance, and I can’t wait to be there, take the pictures, and feel every emotion. Especially pride and joy.