As spring 2020 graduate Perry Nalle watched a movie with her parents, a college graduation scene began to play, and Nalle thought to herself, ‘Wow, I really missed out on that.” 

“I was really kind of having a pity party for myself and was bummed I didn’t get graduation,” Nalle said. “I was much more bummed about other things, like events in my sorority and senior week and my senior project in addition to commencement.”

Graduating from college at the start of the pandemic, meant 2020 graduates would not be able to experience the traditional in-person ceremony in Cal Poly’s Spanos Stadium — until now. This winter, Cal Poly will be welcoming the Class of 2020 grads back for a special in-person commencement on Dec 12.

Nutrition alumna Alyson Crowley said she was super disappointed after she watched her boyfriend graduate from Cal Poly in-person in 2021 because it looked like so much fun. 

“After watching his graduation I realized that that was a moment of life that I’m really bummed that we missed out on,” Crowley said. 

Crowley said she is looking forward to the late ceremony because it is going to be like a giant reunion, but she feels that the commencement is not really about graduating since everyone has already moved on with their lives.

“I feel like it is going to be more exciting as a time where we all are finally getting back together and getting to say all the things we wish we had been able to say since we left for spring break and never came back,” Crowley said. 

Nalle is currently working as a recreation coordinator at Corte Madera Parks and Recreation where she interned for three months when she was at Cal Poly, and said she felt really fortunate to have found a full-time job during the pandemic. 

“I work for a recreation department in the government so my job was in-person. I feel like I really did get to have a normal beginning to the job experience,” Nalle said. “My two best friends from college sat at home for a full year and didn’t find full-time jobs until just a couple months ago, so I think I got really lucky.” 

Recreation parks and tourism administration alumna Tori Aronow is currently a wedding planning assistant and said COVID-19 did hinder her initial career goals. 

“Ideally I would have wanted to graduate and go into a company, but since I graduated during the pandemic my options felt like they were not as broad,” Aronow said. “No one in the event industry was really hiring, so that impacted that experience.” 

Aronow said the most important thing Cal Poly taught her was to say “yes,” take risks and be uncomfortable.

“The way to learn is really to challenge yourself and to be uncomfortable because if you are too comfortable you are never really going to grow,” Aronow said.

Winter 2020 graduate and liberal studies alumna Madison Lewallen is currently getting her single subject teaching credential as well as a masters degree in educational technology. Lewallen teaches 8th grade science in her hometown and said that COVID-19 regulations have completely changed the way schools operate. 

“I never thought I’d be teaching half of my kids in-person and half still on Zoom like we did last year,” Lewallen said. “We were not allowed to have lab tables, so students were in individual desks. This made doing group work and labs really difficult.” 

Experience industry management alumna Hannah Rutter said she was upset that she did not get to experience the same graduation traditions that upperclassmen before her got to experience. 

“I tried to stay positive and just be thankful that we only got one quarter that was ‘ruined’,” Rutter said. “I think everyone kind of pitied us and it was weird not being able to process that I am finishing this important step in my life.” 

Rutter said her graduation ceremony that she experienced on Zoom within her major felt more meaningful than if she had had an in-person graduation. 

“There was a video diary with students saying a little blurb, our professors spoke and awards were given out and it just felt really sweet, personal and intimate,” Rutter said. “With just that ceremony I felt fine and didn’t feel like I needed a big Cal Poly ceremony.”

Winter 2020 graduate and business administration alumna Meghan Butler said that she is attending the late ceremony, but feels she has fully graduated from Cal Poly.

“I feel like I’m past [graduation] because I have had a job for over a year and I’m living on my own in San Francisco,” Butler said. “I feel like it would be weird to put on my gown again and walk across the stage when it’s something I feel like I already celebrated.” 

Butler is currently working at Adobe as a Solutions Consultant and said the most rewarding thing about graduating from Cal Poly is that she came out more creative and innovative because of the “Learn by Doing” mentality. 

“We didn’t have our head in a book the entire four years in college,” Butler said. “We had to actually put our learning into practice and I think that really sets us ahead in the real world.” 

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