Many college students could not have imagined finishing their semester behind computer screens at home, let alone graduating there.
“To be able to walk across that stage and shake your professor’s hand, shake the dean of your college’s hand . . . it’s a really big thing,” said Danielle Sugar, 22, a University of Delaware graduate from East Norwich. “Yes, the university is trying to do a virtual celebration, and families are trying to make a big deal out of it, but it stinks. It will never be the same feeling of having your name called and actually feeling like I did this.”
Sugar, like many other students, had lots of plans for her spring semester. A pre-physician assistant major, she had enrolled in an elective anatomy course in which she would be able to dissect cadavers. Her extracurricular activities included a membership in the Pi Beta Phi sorority and her role as the Pre Physician Assistant Club president.
In early March, the coronavirus pandemic forced students to return home and continue their studies remotely. Sugar has had to work from home for the first time since high school, which wasn’t too much of a hardship, since she plans to continue her studies at Hofstra University this fall.
Pi Beta Phi has continued to hold events remotely, such as digital movie nights. “Overall, I think a lot of my friends and I have accepted it, and we’re trying to make the best of the situation,” Sugar said, “but it stinks. It’s sad.”
To celebrate her graduation, she posed for photos in her cap and gown, and she plans to take part in a live-stream ceremony. She added that there might be some in-person celebrations once it’s safe to do so.
In Glen Head, Pamela Marie Young Osman, 59, plans to celebrate her graduation from Nassau Community College. “I guess I’m OK with it,” she said. “We’re going to do a Zoom family party, and we’ll do something later on.”
In the past, going to school was a challenge for Young Osman because she is hearing impaired. In 2015 she got a cochlear implant, an electronic device that simulates the nerve for hearing.
“NCC college has a wonderful disabilities center, a specific person who is a counselor for the hearing impaired,” she said.
A mother of three adult children and a part-time employee at the North Shore School District, she finished her last semester of disability studies online. She has taken online classes in the past, but learning math from a distance wasn’t as easy for her.
She planned to continue her studies at SUNY-Old Westbury’s Public Health program.
North Shore Senior High School alumna Sydney Zaremba, 20, also had her challenges as she finished up her sophomore year at Hofstra. She lives at home in Sea Cliff, but the state stay-at-home order freed up more of her time than she was used to. And, she said, using that free time productively was a challenge for her at first.
“When I was attending school there were clubs. I’m part of a sorority,” Zaremba said. “There were other things to do.”
The schoolwork is harder, she said, because she can’t ask questions, but taking exams is easier. “It’s also a lot less stressful taking your exams at home, because the professor isn’t there to stress you out,” she said. “It does make it a lot harder to concentrate.”
Zaremba said she hoped she would be able to return to Hofstra’s classrooms in the fall.
Glen Cove resident Nikki Franklin, 20, who just finished her sophomore year at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, said she was nervous about what lies ahead. She found out that Lehigh was closing for the rest of the semester while she was home on spring break. Along with not being able to say goodbye to her friends, she lost her chance to play the piccolo in the marching band at graduation. Instead she had to drive back to school, pack up her belongings and head back to a region that has been hammered by the pandemic — Long Island.
Franklin, who has been studying computer science and engineering at home, said that many of her professors have been flexible, making their lectures available at all times of the day.
“It’s definitely weird,” she said. “My parents have never seen me at this level of stress before.”
Some people think working at home is a vacation for students, she said, but it isn’t. “People say that this is supposed to be the best four years of your life,” she said, “and I just lost a quarter of a year.”