I knew last week was going to be tough.
In fact, as much as I looked forward to moving on, securing my first job after college and never having to take another exam in a crowded lecture hall, I still feared losing my connection to the campus I called home the past four years. In a sense, I feared graduating.
I feared moving my belongings out of my on-campus residence, never to return again, after four years of building a life of my own in Buffalo. I feared never again getting to walk past the classroom where I met my girlfriend and losing the feeling of excitement I get every time I pass by it.
I feared taking vinyl records and posters off my student newspaper’s office walls, knowing that I might never love another job as much as I loved being our editor-in-chief.
But last week was anything but scary.
I sent my graduation link to close family members and saw email requests fill up my inbox, asking me to “digitally” sign a bull statue — an in-person tradition at the University at Buffalo. I heard my name called on a PowerPoint-style slide as my face showed up on my mom’s and dad’s computer screens back home in Albany. And I’m coming to terms with the fact that the last, and what were supposed to be the best, two months of college were stripped away from me without any warning.
I wasn’t at terms with it on March 11, a production day in our newsroom at The Spectrum. I had just decided to cancel a conference trip to New York City — what I thought would be the most difficult news I’d have to share that day — and my staff and I were all waiting around for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s news conference to start loading.
Then we heard Cuomo’s announcement: All SUNY and CUNY schools would practice remote learning for the remainder of the semester.
Whatever I felt at that moment didn’t matter. What mattered was getting the news out. And we did. Students were shocked.
Professors were shocked. I didn’t feel anything yet.
It wasn’t until the end of the day that I realized this would be my last day in that office. It would be my last day with my staff, many of whom became some of my best friends. And it would be my last day on the campus that helped shape me. That’s when the scary part happened.
That’s when I grew up. That’s when I graduated.
I sit here today at my girlfriend’s residence in Boston, where I’ve been for two months, just a couple days after walking a hypothetical graduation stage as my real diploma is on its way to the Capital Region. And as much as I wish I had an in-person ceremony for the sake of my family, the online graduation isn’t really what bothers me.
What bothers me is the fact that I never knew my last class would be my last class. I never knew that my last night living on campus would be followed a few days later by my brother clearing all of my belongings out of my favorite apartment for me. I never knew that COVID-19, the virus our reporters had been writing about since January, would eventually make its way to campus and conclude our on-campus college careers so abruptly.
I never knew I’d have to grow up from UB two months early.
I’m coming to grips with it though. I just wish I had more time to go on grilled-cheese runs with my roommate before he packed his bags and left our apartment for good. I wish I had more time with the professors and mentors who made my college experience so wonderful, all of whom I never even said a proper goodbye to. And I wish I had more time to prepare for leaving my life in Buffalo behind.
Still, I’m writing this. I’m healthy. And I’ve realized that sometimes learning how to adapt is the ultimate sign that you’ve grown up.
So no, I didn’t graduate last weekend. I graduated on March 11.
Brenton Blanchet is an intern with The Daily Gazette. He and his class graduated Saturday from the University at Buffalo. This column first appeared in The Buffalo News.