February 21, 2021

GUEST ROOM | Keep Your Virtual Celebration, and Give Me $20

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You lied to us, President Martha Pollack.

In an email you wrote to us on March 20, 2020, you promised us that we would have our commencement, and, in your own words, that: “It will be a joyous one!…It will take place in Ithaca.”

And yet I awoke Wednesday morning to an email from Michelle J. Vaeth, associate vice president for alumni affairs, effectively crushing any hopes of the in-person commencement that had been promised to the accursed Class of 2020. (Seven hours later, presumably at the end of the workday, you deigned to tell us yourself). 

In lieu of an in-person celebration, you offered — no, you told us — that we would instead have a virtual celebration as a part of the Cornell Reunion. If the past year has taught me anything, though, it’s that virtual celebration is an oxymoron. Haven’t we been subjected to enough virtual happy hours and hangouts in the past year to learn that they just don’t work? 

At best, the virtual celebration will be mediocre. More realistically, though, it will be deeply disappointing. For a whole year, our lives have been dwelling on a cliffhanger. We’ve been resting on hopes that when we said goodbye to one another last March, that maybe it wouldn’t be forever. That maybe we’d get to see each other again in-person. I’d been storing the things I left behind in Ithaca for the past year, waiting on our promised in-person commencement so I could finally get them back.

Now, it’s like we’re actors in a show that got canceled halfway through the fourth season. And the company executives that pulled our final episodes are offering year-old, stale apologies and a pat on the back before shoving us out the door.

But I don’t want a pat on the back and I don’t want a year-late virtual commencement. I don’t want a celebrity to sit in their apartment and whisper sweet nothings to me about living an inspired life or changing the world. I don’t want President Pollack to tell me how sorry she feels. Maybe I could’ve used that a year ago. Maybe I would’ve enjoyed it even now, if only I could hear it while sitting with friends. But that can’t happen — so we’ve been told.

So, what I propose instead is to scrap the last-minute, rushed and doomed-to-fail “Virtual Celebration” that you’re handing us — the ending you’re trying to write for us — and give us part of those proceeds. And while you’re at it, maybe throw in some of the money that you didn’t spend in 2020. While I don’t know the budgets for these events, I imagine that they are sufficiently large enough to provide us with at least a pittance for our sorrows. And I, for one, would be willing to overlook the fact that we were blatantly lied to by President Pollack herself –– if only there were some financial compensation for the year I spent clinging to false promises. 

Because personally, I’ve had more than my share of meaningless pity and sorrow over the past year to last me for a while. I don’t need any more of it during a supposed virtual celebration. And I know that many of my peers could use some money rather than a vague speech about trying their best accompanied by a few hours trapped in a breakout room together. It’s a year too late to give us motivation. 

And really, I’m not asking for much. Even with 20 bucks, I’d have enough to buy myself some ice cream and a cheap bottle of wine, spend a night feeling sorry for myself about how the world has passed me over and about how nothing will ever be the same, and then wake up in the morning and go back to work. 

Or maybe I can add it to my savings so I can finally get back to Ithaca to collect my things. Or maybe my friend can recover some of the costs of her hotel room she can no longer refund. Or maybe my friends can use the money to host our own celebration in the future. But at least we won’t have to suffer through another half-hearted Zoom call for a few hours and pretend that, at the end, we’re satisfied with the lack of closure we’ve been given.

Because, speaking only for myself, I’m certainly not.

Colton Poore ’20 is a recent Cornell graduate. He can be reached at clp222@cornell.edu.