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Celebrating Graduation Despite COVID-19

Celebrating Graduation Despite COVID-19

With cases of COVID-19 continuing to spread around the world, nearly all large events have been canceled. Unfortunately for those graduating in the spring or summer of 2020, this includes most graduation ceremonies.

Some have been canceled altogether, while others have been pushed back or moved online. Either way, this can be disappointing to students who have worked incredibly hard for multiple years to earn an advanced degree in the health professions. Although missing a graduation ceremony can seem trivial in light of all that is going on in the world, for future healthcare providers, it can represent the loss of a celebratory milestone during a difficult time. Failing to walk across the graduation stage can mean a lack of closure to graduate school, or that part of the reward for years of hard work is absent.

More serious than missing graduation is the new COVID-19 reality for many new healthcare graduates. Many medical students are graduating early to help out overwhelmed hospitals before beginning residences. Other healthcare professionals are facing shrinking job markets or altered career prospects. The future is different than many envisioned it, and there are a lot of unknowns. But taking one day to celebrate the accomplishments of finishing a medical professional degree may be one way to alleviate the current stressful situation.

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If your school is holding an online ceremony, consider creating your own private online celebration for family and friends. And if there is nothing planned to mark your would-be graduation date, consider getting your graduating peers together online and creating your own makeshift graduation ceremony.

Whether your graduation ceremony has been canceled or altered, there are still several things you can do to celebrate your graduation despite COVID-19 and honor your extraordinary accomplishments:

1. Pick a date

You can celebrate your graduation on the date you would have received your diploma even if it’s canceled. However, if you’re creating your own ceremony, consider moving it to a time when more people are able to join virtually. This might mean at night or on the weekend to accommodate those working or home schooling.

2. Send out invitations

Invite all the friends and family you’d previously planned on inviting to the original ceremony. You can mail out real invitations, or in the interest of saving time and a trip to the post office, an ecard can make a great substitute.

3. Dress up

Wear the fabulous outfit you’d already planned on wearing underneath your robes, or dig out something fancy from the back of your closet. It’s easy to spend all day in isolation in sweats or pajamas, but even if no one’s really seeing you, dress up for the special day to mark the occasion and help differentiate the date from all the others.

4. Wear a gown

Or even just a cap. Some programs are still letting graduates rent caps and gowns. If this is the case, and you have the money to spare, go for it! If not, it’s easy to buy an inexpensive graduation cap and tassel online, and wearing one might help cement the feeling that you’re actually graduating. And of course, you have to decorate your cap.

5. Add a sash and hood

Remember to add the appropriate colored sash to your outfit – green for medicine, lilac for dentistry, and so on. Also, see if you can get your hands on the appropriate hood, or if not, find an article of clothing in your closet that can make an appropriate substitution. If you’re living with someone else, consider giving them the honor of hooding you for the day.

6. Don’t forget the props

Whether you’re graduating from medical school and holding a stethoscope, or from physical therapy school and holding a goniometer, if your program’s graduation typically involves props (or even if it doesn’t), make sure to have some on hand to get extra festive. Balloons and colorful signs can also make your home feel extra celebratory since you likely can’t change your location.

7. Receive your diploma

See if your school can mail your diploma out to you. If they can’t, or if it hasn’t arrived in time, create your own for use in the ceremony. There are plenty of templates online to choose from, and holding the piece of paper can make the day seem more real.

8. Hold a parade

If you and your classmates are still living near campus, consider holding a socially distant car parade to celebrate your accomplishments. You may even go viral – just like all those cute kids online celebrating their birthdays.

9. Have a speaker

Whether you want to give a toast for your family, or pick a representative amongst your classmates, no graduation ceremony is complete without at least one speech. Use the occasion to look back on fond memories of your time in school and share your hopes for the future. The internet also has lots of options of famous graduation speeches to peruse as well.

10. Celebrate

Plan to cook a fancy dinner or order in from a local restaurant, and pop a bottle of champagne. Do whatever you can to make the evening a little extra special for yourself. You’ve worked hard to get here and deserve to have a little fun.


Although this is not the graduation you likely envisioned for yourself when starting school several years ago, hopefully the occasion still feels celebratory. Graduating with a professional degree like an MD, DDS, or PhD requires years of hard work and sacrifice, and you have earned at least one special day to mark the occasion. Have fun and stay healthy!

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Dr. Jasmine Marcus, PT, DPT, CSCS is a physical therapist and writer. She graduated from Columbia University’s program in physical therapy and received her undergraduate degree in psychology from Cornell University. Before deciding to become a physical therapist, she was a journalist and the host ... Dr. Jasmine Marcus, PT, DPT, CSCS is a physical therapist and writer. She graduated from Columbia University’s program in physical therapy and recei...