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Long time coming: Dartmouth Class of 2020 has its commencement on the Green

Dartmouth Class of 2020 held its commencement this past weekend in Hanover, N.H.
James M. Patterson/Valley News - James M. Patterson
/
Valley News
At the direction of keynote speaker, Geeta Anand, Elijah Abass, left, of Washington, D.C., and Onaleece Colgrove, of Oakland, Calif., close their eyes in meditation during commencement for the class of 2020 in Hanover, N.H., on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022. Colegrove, a former president of Native Americans at Dartmouth, welcomed the class to the ceremony. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. It was first published in the Valley News. For more information visitcollaborativenh.org. 

HANOVER — In two weeks, Luke Cuomo will be leaving his home on Long Island to begin classes at Yale Law School in Connecticut. But this weekend he’s stopping by Hanover for an experience he should have had two years ago.

Dartmouth College hosted a long-delayed graduation ceremony on Saturday morning for Cuomo and the rest of the Class of 2020. The celebration is finally taking place after the campus shut down as the then-novel coronavirus hit the U.S. that March. It’s a long time coming since those 600 students graduated via Zoom the first June of the pandemic.

“It was like, ‘I’ll see you in a few weeks,’ and then you never see them again,” Cuomo said of the initial exit from campus that eventually stretched past commencement.

When Dartmouth students were sent home in March, Cuomo — who was president of the Student Assembly his senior year — and others on the assembly were the primary points of contact between the student body and the administration. At a time when information was scarce and communication tricky, they had a tough task.

“I’m very proud of what we did,” Cuomo said. “It’s the kind of thing that doesn’t leave a long legacy, but in the moment what we provided to students was really invaluable, I think.”

He added that the work gave him a sense of purpose in an otherwise difficult, listless time. Throughout the spring, the college said it would bring students back to campus in May, if conditions permitted. They didn’t permit.

“We knew that wasn’t going to happen, but we all clung to it just out of desperation,” he recalled.

At home, it was difficult for Cuomo to celebrate the milestone of graduation when it meant being thrust from Dartmouth into a pandemic of uncertain length and severity, as well as an economic crisis. On top of that, he was processing an abrupt end to the college life and the friendships he had been fostering for nearly four years.

After he finished Dartmouth classes virtually, Cuomo spent time as a legal assistant at a law firm that worked on sentencing exoneration. Since this spring, he’s been working for a Democratic congressional primary campaign in New York.

“I’m grateful that the college has kept its promise and is having a graduation ceremony for us. But so much time has passed that it feels strange to be going back,” Cuomo said.

Still, he feels some gratitude for the growth that came from the jarring pivot out of college life.

“Next time the world faces some kind of calamity, we’ll be better prepared to weather it and work our way out of it,” Cuomo said of himself and his classmates. “I think we did just become a little bit tougher.”

Leah Brams, a former skier for Dartmouth’s women’s Nordic team, said that more than anything she mourns the loss of personal connections.

“Now I’m fine because it’s more than two years later, but I really wish I could have said goodbye to a lot of people,” Brams said.

Thinking maybe everyone had grown too jaded, Brams wasn’t sure if any of her classmates would even come back for the celebrations this weekend.

“I don’t know if it’s just the people that I’m friends with or what, but a few months ago everyone was saying, ‘No, I’m not coming,’ ” Brams said. “Now it’s like everyone’s coming unless they’re, I don’t know, in another country.”

An environmental studies major, she wrote a thesis on electric vehicle legislation in Vermont and now does policy research in Beverly, Mass., for Highland Electric Fleets, which electrifies school buses.

After completing her degree remotely, and before moving back to her hometown of Boston, Brams lived alone in Lyme and worked in the bike shop at Omer and Bob’s in downtown Lebanon.

“That was good, but it was also pretty lonely,” Brams said, quickly adding that it was fulfilling to make a life for herself in the Upper Valley but outside of the Dartmouth bubble.

“It really solidified my love for this place in a real way that never could have happened for me just living near campus in Hanover,” Brams said.

She predicted the delayed graduation would be more like a reunion than anything else. Her parents aren’t coming, and in standard reunion fashion, the college has an open bar all weekend.

“It feels like the college is apologizing with this whole thing,” Brams said of the delayed ceremony. “They’re saying, ‘So sorry about all that; here you go.’ ”

Other students feel prepared to make up for lost time and resuscitate the traditions that they missed out on. When the college sent out an email to the Class of 2020 asking if anyone was interested in planning the delayed graduation, Emma Alter leapt at the opportunity.

“I really wanted to make sure that the ceremony was somewhat similar to what we do traditionally,” Alter said.

The Saturday morning event included most of the typical graduation trappings: Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon addressing the class along with keynote speaker Geeta Anand, a 1989 Dartmouth graduate and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. The bagpiper who traditionally leads the procession of students onto the green will also be present.

“That was really important to us as a planning committee, that the bagpiper be there,” Alter said.

She had been particularly excited about the senior spring term that she didn’t end up having. Alter had spent three years as a coxswain for the men’s rowing team. She quit after her junior year, hoping to enjoy her final spring at Dartmouth without the commitments of crew.

“It was really sad and disappointing,” she said.

Now, two years later, she said she’s most excited to see everyone finally on campus again.

“It will be great to be back here with them and have one last hurrah,” said Alter, who now works as a consultant for Accenture and lives in Chicago with her goldendoodle named Bean. “And I’m looking forward to having a $3 Molly’s margarita. I’ve been craving one for two years.”

As editor-in-chief of the yearbook her senior year, Ariela Kovary was in charge of documenting a spring term that was unfolding on the internet.

“We ended up calling it ‘Spring in Memoriam,’ ” Kovary said.

The editors gathered pictures from the Dartmouth Communications Office, which was still taking photos of campus now empty of students, like vacant shots of Baker Library and a lifeless college green.

“And then we capitalized on Zoom,” Kovary said. “We took a lot of screenshots to say, ‘Even though this isn’t an in-person experience, this is what’s actually going on now.’ ”

When she finished classes, Kovary said she had an existential crisis.

“I didn’t have a consulting or corporate job lined up like a lot of my peers,” Kovary said. She took a seasonal job wrapping gifts at Bloomingdale’s and now is a host and sales manager at a restaurant while taking supplementary community college classes near her home in Mineola, N.Y. Next month she will begin graduate studies in architecture and urban planning at Columbia University.

Kovary, a first-generation college graduate, is excited for her mom to share in her accomplishment at the graduation ceremony.

“She paid my tuition — this is really a party for her,” Kovary said. “All the effort she went through to raise me landed me in a great place — I want her to feel celebrated.”

Otherwise, Kovary said her mind is elsewhere: She’s stressed about graduate school logistics and “trying to figure it all out still.”

And two years later, she still has belongings she needs to get from Dartmouth storage, left behind as the world quickly changed.

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