Mental Health Check: What to Do When Graduation Cancellation Really Has You Down

Graduating college is one of those seminal moments in life. It signifies the successful completion of four (or more) years of higher academic learning and the start of true adulthood. This year, however, COVID-19 has put a stop to most graduation ceremonies and any related events, leaving students without any clear marker that they've ended a significant stage of their life. 

For Jonathan Manousaridis, a graduate of Northeastern University, this realization has been heartbreaking. While Manousaridis wasn't excited to walk for himself, he acknowledges the importance of graduation for his mother. "Her and I have gone through a lot in my life and this moment was going to be the crowning achievement of my life with her, and I feel as though I had that stripped away from us," he says. "I know seeing me walk across the stage and getting that diploma would've meant the world to my mom, and getting to hug her in my cap and gown after all we have been through is a moment I've been looking forward to for at least five years. It's still hard to stomach that that scenario won't happen."

Rachael McManus, another graduate of Northeastern University, feels similarly. While she acknowledges that if this was a normal year she would likely be complaining about all of the fuss, she feels that being able to do this for her family was important. "I wanted them to make a fuss and take me and my friends out for a big, fun dinner. I wanted to feel that definitive heartbreak of this incredible period coming to an end. I wanted to feel the absolute joy of coming out on top. I wanted to have my graduation."

Feeling like your accomplishments are going by unnoticed can be hard, and it's okay to feel upset about this. Here are some tips if having your graduation canceled has you down, to the point that it's impacting your mental health. 

Think about attending graduation ceremonies online.

Some schools —and other private organizations including Her Campus! — are organizing online graduation ceremonies, though these are sure to be very different from what you would have experienced in-person. For this reason, many students, including Manousaridis, don't think they are worth attending. "At this point I'd rather move on and accept that the moment will never be than try to 'make up' for it virtually."

For others, however, an online graduation ceremony could be a way to receive some form of recognition for all the hard work achieved during the past four or five years and be a way to re-connect with your professors and fellow graduates. It doesn't cost anything but some of your time to join one of these events, so see if there are any that really catch your interest. It may be a great way to break the monotony of staying at home, while also getting a chance to celebrate your achievements. 

Practice self-compassion and validate your experiences.

No matter what you decide to do, it's important to practice some self-care and validate all that you have been through. This semester has been a difficult one, and it is totally understandable if you are feeling a sense of loss over missing graduation. While it may seem like small change compared to what is going on in the world, all of your emotions are still valid, and you shouldn't feel any shame in acknowledging them. 

You also shouldn't be afraid to celebrate the fact that you graduated. Though the lack of celebration doesn't make the last years any less impactful or diminish what you've learned, as McManus realizes, it still has a huge effect. As she puts it, "Without the ending, the definitive ending graduation promises, how can we concretely grieve the ending and celebrate new beginnings?"

Even if it seems that no one else is acknowledging it, you have accomplished something special by graduating college. While you may not be able to celebrate graduation the traditional way, you can still create a meaningful acknowledgement of your accomplishment. Think about ordering-in a special celebration dinner with your family or organizing a Zoom call with all your friends and popping open that bottle of champagne. By planning another way to celebrate, you can take back some sense of control over your life and your emotions. 

Stay connected with your fellow graduates.

One of the hardest things about having graduation canceled is that you receive no closure, particularly with your college friends. It can feel as if you have lost your support group during a crucial part of your life, which can lead to increased feelings of anxiety and depression. I can guarantee that this is something basically all graduates are going through. For this reason, it is more important than ever to stay connected. While your family can support you, they likely cannot fully understand all that you are going through, including having your entire friend group scattered and entering a highly unstable job market. Keep those group chats active and make time to have Zoom parties. 

Don't be afraid to reach out for help.

Above all, understand that this is a very stressful time and it is perfectly acceptable to reach out for some help. Teletherapy is more popular than ever, and there has been a series of regulation changes to make it easier for people to get the help they need during the COVID-19 crisis. Some resources include: 

  • Talkspace. This online therapy platform provides users the confidential support of a licensed therapist through an easy-to-use and HIPAA-compliant app.

  • Live Health Online. Another online therapy platform, this site allows you to quickly connect with licensed psychologists who have been trained to perform visits online. 

  • Psychology Today. This online magazine features a lot of content on teletherapy, allowing you to do some easy research and find the best solution for you. 

If you need more immediate assistance, these helplines are available 24/7:

While dealing with a canceled graduation among all the other stressed COVID-19 has brought can be hard, know that nothing can take away from what you have actually accomplished. Hopefully these tips and resources can help you get through this tough time and start you on the path to the next stage of your life. Congrats to all you graduates and I'm so excited to see what comes next.