“My generation has been told that COVID-19 will shape us…”

Lara Sanli ’20

With early years shaped by 9/11, a stock market crash and school shootings, new grad Lara Sanli ’20 admits her class has faced many challenges, but still believes in a better future.

As a first-generation college student, I had always anticipated walking across the big stage at UC San Diego’s commencement. Graduation was supposed to celebrate the significance of my accomplishment and also recognize a momentous milestone for my family. When COVID-19 took the moment away, I viewed it as a unique loss for my parents far more so than I did for myself.

To my mother’s relief, the university has promised an in-person ceremony at a yet-to-be-determined date when it’s finally safe enough to gather. But that’s still no substitute for what the original moment would’ve been.

Each college adapted to the circumstances by hosting their own virtual ceremony over Zoom. Because my family was in their separate quarantine at the time, I watched the stream on the couch with my roommates, who kindly decked out the house with festive decorations while I was sleeping. They crafted me my own “diploma” from printer paper and gel pens and cheered as I walked down the stairs to “Pomp and Circumstance.”

Despite their best efforts, virtual graduation did not go off without a hitch: my full regalia didn’t ship on time for the ceremony, and the Zoom stream didn’t load for some of my friends. But that is to be expected in pandemic times.

I’m grateful for having the opportunity and privilege to earn a degree, and for my friends and family who did everything they could to make the day special. Still, celebrating in quarantine felt anticlimactic and odd.

Of course, I never envisioned it happening like this. My last quarter of college took place entirely over Zoom, leading me to feel like my accelerated three-year college experience really only lasted for two and a half years instead. It feels like college went by way too fast.

Sanli standing in front of Sun God.

I forget the last time I was on campus. It was probably for some random, unmonumental day that once felt like any other, with me rushing between work, class, and multiple extracurriculars, serendipitously running into random friends. Waiting for the bus. Hiking to ERC. Doing the usual. I’m sad for all the goodbyes I never got to give and the school I guess I left behind.

I’ve since moved back into my childhood bedroom and it sometimes feels as if college never happened. My “UCSD chapter” was never truly closed and I’ve somehow ended up right back where I started.

My generation has been told that COVID-19 will shape us, and that a degree earned in 2020 will forever carry a certain amount of respect. Don’t get me wrong, every generation has its challenges. But the class of 2020 has always had to grow up quickly. Our earliest years were shaped by 9/11, our childhood by the stock market crash, our adolescence by school shootings and the 2016 election, and our early adulthood by COVID-19.

The pandemic has made pre-existing inequalities even more apparent, as the most vulnerable and underserved communities continue to be the strongest impacted. These structural inequalities are deeply intertwined with racial inequities, which have been highlighted more clearly than ever by the Black Lives Matter Movement.

Even though the class of 2020 may be lost, we’re using our voices and votes to fight for broader social and political change going forward. I’m grateful that we still believe in a better future.

Lara Sanli graduated from Eleanor Roosevelt College in June 2020 with a degree in International Studies – Political Science. While attending UC San Diego, she was a student writer for Triton magazine, features editor for The UCSD Guardian, and ambassador for the UCDC Internship Program. She plans to pursue law school and hopes to one day move to Washington, D.C. She currently lives in Berkeley, California.