This past weekend, I was supposed to be in Boston to see my cousin Meha graduate from Tufts University. I had been looking forward to this trip for a while. Because I love my cousin, of course, but also because I love everything about college graduations: the uplifting speeches, the idiosyncratic school traditions, the big graduation dinner, the sense of optimistic uncertainty in the air. My own college graduation went by so quickly. I barely got a chance to take a moment and appreciate what was happening. At someone else’s graduation, I’m a lot better at soaking everything in.
Like at so many other schools, the Tufts commencement ceremony and in-person classes were canceled back in March. So Meha spent her spring term in Dallas and is living here for the time being. She took her UX design class over Zoom. She received a do-it-yourself cocktail kit in the mail so that she could attend a virtual drink-making class during what was supposed to be senior week. I kept thinking back to that potent mixture of joy, sadness, and nostalgia that permeated the last few months of my senior year. Meha wouldn’t get to experience a lot of that. So, along with my cousins Hirsh and Isha, who are also living in Dallas for now, I started plotting. How could we throw Meha an epic—and most importantly, safe—graduation ceremony?
We decided to set the ceremony in my backyard, where there is thankfully ample space for social distancing. We divvied up the food responsibilities—the plan was fish tacos, grilled veggies, guacamole, cilantro-lime rice, and black beans, plus flourless chocolate cake for dessert. We were all in charge of distributing the food between different containers, so that no one would be eating in close proximity. We set up the chairs at a safe distance. I obsessed over planning every detail of this graduation ceremony because I wanted Meha to get her special day. I’ll admit that it was also a nice mental break from thinking about the pandemic all the time.
Meha borrowed Hirsh’s old graduation robe and Isha’s cap. I blasted a hip-hop version of “Pomp and Circumstance” from our outdoor speakers as Meha did a lap around the pool as her processional. We all wore masks. My dad, who loves a speech, delivered the commencement address. Isha made a fake diploma that read “Bachelor o Farts” instead of “Bachelor of Arts,” because we are very mature. I even printed up programs with the Tufts seal on them, for an extra touch.
It wasn’t the graduation ceremony that any of us thought we would be attending. But there was something very charming about our highly DIY production and the dinner that followed it, with black beans distributed among quart containers and hunks of flourless chocolate cake handed off while wearing masks at a distance. It reminded me of all the other pandemic-inspired innovations that have brought me joy over the last few months—the dad who turned his house into a hibachi restaurant for his son’s birthday, the elegant wedding that took place on a decorated Brooklyn stoop. When all the days start to blend together, these are the moments I live for. The ones that make you forget about the mask you are wearing or the fact that, in my case, I have not been home in months. And at the very least, while my graduation day will always feel like a blur, I don’t think Meha is going to forget her own anytime soon.