Op-ed: The pain of graduating in the middle of a pandemic
I would like to tell you my story as a recent master graduate student and second-place Pfizer prize for Life Sciences laureate. It’s a bitter story, which shows the pain of an international student graduating at the UG in the middle of a pandemic.
I’m currently a PhD student at the Faculty of Science and Engineering. Five years ago, I came here to study chemistry at the UG and ended up staying for the master. As an international student from Eastern Europe, my life hasn’t been easy, but I’ve managed. In August, I graduated summa cum laude from the master in biomolecular sciences, and in September I embarked on my PhD journey.
Obviously, the current situation does not allow for any conventional graduation ceremony, but what FSE did instead left me very hurt. I tried to reach out to them to let them know how I felt about it, but nobody has answered me in more than a week, which shows that nobody cares.
To cut a long story short: we were told that all graduation ceremonies were cancelled until at least March 2021, and that the only alternative was to pick up the diploma at the support desk between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. in a five-minute assigned time slot. Moreover, we were forbidden to bring any loved ones with us. I went along with this charade because I needed my diploma.
The time came for me to pick up my diploma. It was already painful that my parents, the only people who supported me my entire life, could not be by my side. Another student who was there to get his diploma at the same time as I did, brought his parents and even managed to get them inside. All the people that were there to make sure that the rules were respected, failed to reinforce one of the most important rules.
I have never ever felt so alone in my entire life. I could not stop my tears as I was cycling back home, heartbroken. Furthermore, receiving a so-called ‘goodie bag’ that was empty only exacerbated the emptiness and humiliation I experienced picking up my diploma. I still don’t feel good holding it; after two years of hard work, I feel nothing when I see my diploma.
After two years of hard work, I feel nothing when I see my diploma
The day after I was officially awarded my Pfizer prize during a Zoom ceremony organised by the Koninklijke Hollandsche Maatschappij der Wetenschappen, the university immediately added my name to the list of the KHMW prize winners on their website.
Although I demanded my name be removed due to the way I felt because of my humiliating graduation, I was ignored. Even more, they failed to realise that the master they wrote next to my name does not even exist: chemical biology is merely a track within biomolecular sciences. Right now, I feel used, like I was just a number and an extra tuition fee.
In my opinion, FSE could have organised something like KHMW did, an online ceremony safe for everyone but still festive. The KHMW actually made me feel proud of my prize and the diploma I got via mail.
Fortunately, I have a great research group and they showed their appreciation and that they do care about me as an individual by offering me a wonderful bouquet for my graduation. Their gesture has somewhat soothed the pain caused by FSE, but at the same time, I cannot forgive the university for the sorrow, belittling of my achievements and, using my name only when it suits them.
I would really appreciate it if I were heard at least – I think people deserve to know that graduating in these times is not as great as the university shows on their Instagram profile.
Adina Sauciuc is a PhD student at the Faculty of Science and Engineering (FSE)