They likely entered college the year after President Donald Trump was elected. They’re leaving college in the midst of an unparalleled global pandemic that has left 34 million Americans unemployed, an impending recession experts believe will rival the Great Depression, and has claimed the lives of more than 75,000 Americans. And they’re without a graduation ceremony.
The graduating class of 2020 is entering the workforce at what can only be described as a terrifying time. Their job offers are being rescinded, their internships are being canceled, and the job market is bleak, at best. And since schools nationwide have closed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, graduates are being denied the opportunity to celebrate their educational accomplishments in the face of so much shared trauma and overwhelming uncertainty. They’re not walking with their classmates and shaking the hands of their favorite professors; they’re not standing on stage holding a diploma, inundated with the cheers of their proud family members and friends. Instead, they’re having “virtual commencements” that allow for social distancing. What is a milestone for young people is being stifled by a public health crisis not of their making.
But thanks to one HeyMama member, 2020 college graduates are going to get a graduation ceremony that rivals anything I certainly had when I graduated from Western Washington University in the spring of 2009: a celebrity-studded virtual event that will remind them all that while the state of the future is unknown, their value; their hard work; their dedication to their education; their potential, is not.
Steph Kaplan Lewis, co-founder, CEO, and editor-in-chief of HerCampus, an online magazine for female college students, has organized the event #ImStillGraduating to celebrate the college graduates of 2020. Held virtually on May 15 at 12 PM EST, the graduation ceremony will feature a lineup that puts Sesame Street: Elmo’s Playdate, and even the recent (and might I add, flawless) Parks and Recreation reunion, to shame.
Huge names — like Eva Longoria, Liam Payne, former presidential candidate Andrew Yang, Jesse McCartney, Billie Jean King, Margaret Cho, CNN’s Alisyn Camerota, and Governor John Kasich — will come to the event to not only use the power of celebrity to remind graduates that they deserve a celebration, but to also support Active Minds, a non-profit organization focused on the mental health of young adults.
“Thrilled to be able to add some pomp and positivity for the class of 2020 amidst everything going on in the world right now,” Lewis wrote on Instagram. “Congrats, grads, and see you on May 15!”
The event will also feature student speakers and performers, toasts, and some “very special surprises,” per Lewis’ Instagram post. The event is free and open to anyone who wishes to attend, and you can RSVP via the event’s website. Via the same website, you can also create a virtual grad announcement to share with friends and family members, send an encouraging video message to a beloved graduate (or just the graduating class of 2020 as a whole), and allows you to scroll through a virtual yearbook of graduates, where you can meet them and hear about their stories of resilience and determination.
“We are ecstatic to announce this incredible group of speakers and performers across industries who share in our enthusiasm around rallying behind the Class of 2020 to give them the graduation they deserve,” Lewis said in a statement to the Hollywood Reporter. “We’re turning the letdown of a missed graduation experience on its head and bringing together the lineup of our dreams to deliver commencement addresses and performances that will inspire, motivate and uplift at a time that this year’s graduates, and all of us, need it most.”
College graduates have every right to feel cheated out of a monumental moment they’ve been looking forward to since freshman year; the moment they focused on during those late-night study sessions and caffeine-fueled study groups; the graduation ceremony that helped them get through work-study and balancing a part-time job and a full load of classes. But thanks to a HeyMama member who has reminded us all that community comes in many forms and can come together in many ways, graduates will also have an afternoon of earned acknowledgment.
The 2020 graduating class will get what they deserve: a serious celebration.