What Does It Mean to Graduate Virtually?

Columbia Engineering's senior class president reminisces about everything that Columbia has represented for him.

Sambhav Jain
May 01, 2020

Spring has sprung: Trees are blossoming, birds are chirping louder than ever, the sun shines brightly on the Low Library steps and the lawns have never been greener. On any other day, campus would be packed with thousands of lions. But yesterday was different. There were empty spaces with only public safety officers making their rounds. It felt eerie and incomplete.

Never did I realize that time would fly by so fast. I remember the day I started at Columbia, with a feeling of nervous excitement at the beginning of a new journey thousands of miles away from my home in New Delhi, India. Now there are just a few weeks before I graduate virtually, before all of my hard work finally pays off.

Columbia gave me the four best years of my life so far. If I was given the option of reliving those years, I would do it in a heartbeat. Approaching the finish line, I am sitting in my campus room alone, looking out the window, feeling slighted. Where there used to be hordes of students, rushing from one class to another, with laughter and music, there is now absolute silence.

For many of us, the best way to describe how we all feel right now is deprived. Never did we think that the end of our senior year would be like this. Of course, the health of family and friends is paramount, but I am still sad about the missed opportunities: senior gala, the boat cruise, dinners, brunches and parties—traditions that would have made our last year of college so memorable.

When President Bollinger announced that campus would be closing and our graduation would be held virtually, many of us were heartbroken. Our last night on campus—March 12—hundreds of seniors came together on the east campus courtyard and Low Library steps to express our unity and love for this place. Nothing could match the Columbia spirit I saw that night.

As I walked around the campus then, I remembered the quick lunches at Low beach that would turn into ‘darties,’ and all-nighters at Butler that would end with a trip to JJ’s Place at sunrise. Classes were equally fun. I walked out of Professor Anton Dieker’s Probability for Engineers class $2 poorer after losing a bet with him on whether people in class shared a birthday, but the memory was worth it.

This pandemic has taught us that things can be temporary. I’m one of the few people who remained on campus. (Between finishing schoolwork and starting a job in San Francisco as a product manager at SalesForce, there was no time to go home.) The tables in John Jay where, as a freshman, I bonded with fellow classmates over impromptu conversations are now stacked in a corner and takeout is the only option.

Beyond campus, there are so many things that I had planned to do in the city before graduation—everything from completing our 116 things bucket list to going to the Met Cloisters. But now we’re all separated and classes are online. Some things—spontaneous elevator talks and endless debates with friends—cannot be easily replicated on Zoom sessions.

To keep spirits up and enjoy our last few days as seniors as much as possible, we recently hosted a virtual senior night. While it was good to see everyone on my screen, it can never be as exciting as going to Amity Hall in person, dancing together and meeting new people.

Upon graduation, most of my friends will remain in New York, and I will be in California. I hope that my class will have an in-person graduation with the usual festivities in the future, where we can all get together to celebrate our successes in the iconic Pantone 292 robes.

While I am ready to begin the next chapter of my life, I look forward to returning to campus soon. Columbia will always be a part of me, and it’s thanks to the people I have met here. To all my fellow seniors, I hope you stay strong and power on because as Dr. Seuss said, “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!”