Graduation ceremonies take place via Zoom for Dubai's Class of 2020
Graduation ceremonies take place via Zoom for Dubai's Class of 2020 Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: High school seniors in the UAE and college graduates of 2020 who were looking forward to their graduation ceremonies, prom nights and grad trips are now having to settle in with the new normal, their plans compromised, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

As if cancelled A-levels and IBs were not enough, the Class of 2020 or the Pandemic Generation (as they will now be known) are now having to let go of final farewells and embrace online get-togethers while the certificates arrive by post.

Dressing for an online prom

Cassandra Teulon from the Dubai English Speaking College (DESC) regrets having no official graduation ceremony and no proms. She has already secured admission in a Bachelors degree programme in Global Development Studies in a university in Canada, but does feel frustrated with the changes in her life.

“We were so annoyed when the exams were cancelled,” she told Gulf News. “I worked hard for three years and then we were told we were not taking them. And now, no graduation ceremony either. We were so looking forward to that and the prom night. And there was also a grad trip being planned to Bali.”

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Cassandra in her prom dress ready for a party online Image Credit: Supplied

To make up for her dashed hopes, her mum, Cyndi Teulon, recently arranged for a virtual graduation party with friends. “I wore a nice prom dress, got my hair and nails done. Then we zoomed in with family and friends. Mum arranged for some cakes and balloons and she got graduation caps for my friends,” says Cassandra.

Her school, she says, has asked final year students to send in videos with messages. “I am sure they will send us something for a keepsake.”

“I wanted to do something special for Cassandra,” says Cyndi. “She had worked so hard for her A levels and also had great predicted marks which got her into a great university. We needed a marker for her that would officially signal the end of her school education. So we arranged for an online party.”

Joanne Jewell

Mindfulness coach Joanne Jewell agrees that finding some way of marking this important chapter in the lives of children show a lot of parental support.

“Whether it’s renting a graduation gown, taking a picture, or having a special meal... acknowledging the milestone in some is always helpful.”

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Graduation parties via Zoom Image Credit: Supplied

Cassandra agrees that going to a new country does worry her. “But right now with what looks like an online first semester, it will be business as usual with no first day in college to look forward to as well,” she says.

Miss thanking my teachers

Tayte Stefaniuk of the Gems Wellington International School agrees that it was “devastating” to hear that the IB had decided to cancel the examinations. “I had worked so hard and sacrificed so much to succeed in those exams. I had felt as though all of my hard work had been robbed.”

Tayte will be taking a gap year to assess his options for university. “Since I was very young I marveled at the prospect of being a marine biologist and had arranged internships in this discipline for my gap year which have subsequently been delayed. I am now using this time at home to take online courses to investigate a career in environmental law or environmental studies.”

He agrees that his friends have been looking forward to a proper graduation ceremony. “Many had arranged to go on grad trips around the world to commemorate our time together. When it became evident that no physical graduation would take place, a virtual graduation was announced by the school. Graduating students were asked to send video clips in our graduation attire which would be made into a video presentation that will be shared with us.”

His greatest regret is that he will miss thanking his teachers in person and say a proper goodbye. “I can’t thank them enough for their guidance and efforts during my time at GWIS and especially during this time.”

A photo-op and planning a trip

The Gems United School that had planned a drive-through graduation ceremony for its students, cancelled the event last Thursday, deeply disappointing Youssef Moubadder who had really been looking forward to it.

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Youssef Moubaddder in his graduation gown Image Credit: Supplied

Youssef has secured an admission in Surrey University in the UK and is frustrated that this moment, which he has waited all his life, is now just reduced to just a photo opportunity in a graduation gown and cap that his school had arranged sometime back. “It really sucks,” he says. “We had also planned a special trip with senior students. Now we keep talking about how different life would have been without Covid-19.”

But Youssef agrees that he has learnt some practical life lessons from the pandemic. “To appreciate every little thing, and never to take anything for granted. We are still making plans with friends about going to Croatia for our Class of 2020 trip. That’s what keeps us going. Till then we just have to meet online and look forward to when things will get back to normal.”

Looking for a graduation gown

Dubai-resident, 21-yr-old, Salpie Dawood will be graduating with a diploma in in International Business Communication from the Radbund University in the Netherlands. Although Salpie has been physically attending classes in the Netherlands since 2017, she had to complete her last semester online.

“The college had planned a graduation ceremony in August but now it’s all cancelled and I am really upset that I cannot celebrate my special day with my family,” she says.

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Salpie Dawood during a study trip to Oxford Image Credit: Supplied

Salpie plans to get herself a graduation gown and a cap and have a special online celebration with family and friends. “In another world there would have been an elaborate ceremony in college with speeches and all. We would then take photographs at the iconic spots on campus, followed by a dinner with family and party with friends.”

Salpie says she keeps replaying the picture of a normal graduation day in her mind. “I guess I took so much for granted. But I am going to make the most of it and get myself a graduation gown – a nice outfit and celebrate with my family and friends online.” The diploma certificate can come by post, she says.

Talking about the job market, Salpie says, “I feel there will be opportunities for 2020 graduates, as this generation is most familiar with technological transformation. Hence, it is important to stand out and use the opportunity to further educate oneself.”

An uncertain and stressful time for young adults

Tanuka Gupta

Tanuka Gupta, a clinical psychologist, explains that the “pandemic situation is a prolonged state of trauma that humans are going through much like a natural disaster, war or violence. The effects of trauma always lead to some level of mental health concerns. Thus, young adults will be having the same range of emotions about the pandemic and their future or career much like the adults around them. From my interaction I have found the most common emotional states are that of anxiety, confusion, sadness, depression and grief. Especially the age where they are at the cusp of stepping into a world of career and responsibility, stress level will be especially higher than young children who are more dependent on their parents for their wellbeing.”

The uncertainty of the situation, the loss of opportunities to graduate, get an internship or a job or be with peers will continue to fuel the state of fear, worry and sadness in them, she explains. “There is a sense of ‘powerlessness’ or ‘victimhood’ that comes from a prolonged state of being in a ‘limbo’ of not being able to do anything.”

But each individual, Gupta says, have their own coping mechanisms. “Some people would probably become more cynical of the hope of doing well while some will quickly bounce back and go with the changes like social distancing, wearing masks and other restrictions. Some may lose trust in the overall system and some would come out of it learning lessons about humanity, compassion and equality.”

What can you do as a parent?

A supportive, calm and balanced home environment is extremely important at all times but especially now. Children learn to cope with stress based on what is modelled by their parents to a large extent. A home environment where there is panic, despair and incessant speculation about the pandemic will exacerbate fear in the children.

  • Process your own stress in a calm manner. Be honest about what you feel and share that with your family including your children.
  • Check in on the emotional state of your children and listen to how they are processing the situation.
  • Do not impose your opinions on them. Do not tell them how they need to feel.
  • Accept their feelings as that would give them a safe space to share. There are no “wrong” emotions. All emotions are valid.
  • Discuss the best possible ways of coping with this situation. Do not push advices but offer suggestions.
  • Lead a balanced life of healthy sleep and waking hours, physical exercise, nourishing diet and limited digital time.
  • Ask for their help in housework.