Columbus family attends three college graduations in three weeks | #vacation | #seniors | #elderly
With the return of in-person commencement ceremonies, families of college graduates across the country are planning what will be for many their first non-virtual celebration since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
For Marcus and Kristen Atha, the family has not one, but three graduations this year to attend.
“We’ll be at three different ceremonies in the course of three weeks,” said Marcus Atha, senior pastor at North Broadway Methodist Church. “We’re having big fun.”
Back-to-back-to-back college graduation ceremonies
The Athas, of German Village, have four college-aged children: 23-year-old Lucas and 22-year-old triplets Chelsea, Cameron and Simeon.
Three of the four Atha siblings are graduating in back-to-back-to-back ceremonies this month. Last Sunday, Chelsea graduated from Bowling Green State University with an education degree. Lucas will graduate from Ohio State University Sunday with a moving-image production degree, and Simeon graduates May 16 from Boston University with an international relations degree.
The middle triplet, Cameron, will graduate from the University of Cincinnati next year from a five-year environmental engineering program.
COVID-19 still impacting graduations for the class of 2021
After COVID-19 canceled most in-person high school and college graduations last spring, this year’s seniors and their loved ones have wondered what ceremonies will look like for the Class of 2021.
The questions seem endless: In-person or virtual? One ceremony or multiple? Will guests be allowed? Where can schools host these ceremonies to promote social distancing? And will last year’s seniors, who missed out on that closure, be honored?
The Atha family is in some ways a microcosm of how various universities are holding commencement ceremonies in this new season of the pandemic.
In the before times, the entire Atha family, including plenty of extended family members, would be cheering on their graduates with fanfare at each ceremony. But this year, with COVID-19 protocols in place, celebrations look a little different.
Simeon’s graduation in Boston, for instance, is in-person for graduates, but livestreamed for family and friends.
Marcus and Kristen will still fly out to Boston next week though. The university typically hosts a parents gathering the night before graduation, which also is virtual this year, so they will Zoom into both celebrations from their hotel room.
Bowling Green State University had students sign up for one of six different graduation ceremonies. Chelsea Atha was in the middle of her student teaching job when she got word that graduation registration had opened up. She quickly logged on to make sure that she and her roommates would be able to attend the same ceremony.
“None of us really knew what graduation was going to look like until a month before,” said Chelsea, the eldest of the triplets.
Chelsea was allowed four guests to attend her graduation, so mom, dad, Cameron and Lucas all came to BGSU’s Doyt L. Perry Stadium for her brisk, but sunny Sunday ceremony.
Students were seated on the field with guests in the bleachers. Although it wasn’t the ceremony she thought she’d have, Chelsea said one thing she loved about graduation was also being able to celebrate with the Class of 2020.
Bowling Green invited last year’s seniors to attend this spring’s ceremonies as well, so students were identified as “graduating seniors” or “alumni” as they walked across the stage.
“It was special to be able to graduate all together like that because we wouldn’t have had that together otherwise,” Chelsea said.
Lucas Atha, who will graduate from Ohio State this Sunday, had been looking forward to commencement for a long time.
The 23-year-old started out at Baldwin Wallace University in Berea but decided to change his major partway through his college career. After some time at Columbus State Community College, he transferred to Ohio State and joined the inaugural class of the moving-image production major.
It wasn’t until the pandemic that his anticipation for graduation turned to worry.
“I wasn’t even planning on going to graduation until last semester,” Lucas said. “My mom convinced me otherwise because she said she wanted to see me graduate on Mother’s Day.”
For Lucas, the excitement is dulled by the pandemic, and for good reason, he said.
“I’m very excited to graduate, but still nervous because of the bigger crowds,” Lucas said. “It’s sad, but I wouldn’t want people risking their lives to celebrate something that is a big deal but ultimately not necessary.”
Going to Chelsea’s graduation gave Lucas a glimpse into what his own commencement might look like. He was glad there were mask requirements and social distancing, but not everyone adhered to them, he said.
‘They’ve had to navigate circumstances they’ve never thought of’
Ohio State will host two commencement ceremonies this Sunday at Ohio Stadium. One will take place at 11 a.m. and the other at 3 p.m., and ceremonies are divided by colleges. Seniors are allowed two guests, with whom they will be seated in the stands.
“He’s having to sit with his parents instead of his friends,” Marcus said. “We feel for him.”
It’s disappointing to not be able to get together with his friends to celebrate and reflect like they would have in earlier times. Still, Lucas said, at least he has a ceremony to attend.
“A lot of my friends graduated last year without any pomp and circumstance,” he said. “I think we’ve all realized this last year that the online experience is so unfulfilling.”
It’s hard at times to think about what this season would’ve looked like for the Athas had there not been a pandemic, they said. But there still are silver linings.
The family hunkered down together last spring when all of the kids’ universities sent students home, a time they wouldn’t have had together otherwise. Marcus and Kristen also were able to watch Simeon defend his senior thesis virtually, an event normally held in person that they wouldn’t have been able to attend.
And since Cameron graduates next spring, the family will, they hope, be able to attend her graduation together. Plus, Marcus said, it’s unusual for her to have anything truly to herself as a triplet, so that’s an added bonus.
The Athas are planning to take an off-the-grid family vacation after all the graduations are through. It will be a time to reflect on the last year, dream about the future and be grateful for all that they have together.
“For these kids graduating now, they’ve had to navigate circumstances they’ve never thought of,” Marcus said. “It’s equipped them in ways of stability and adaptability that they wouldn’t have thought of. I’m so proud of them.”