I don’t know who I feel most sorry for at the moment. Everyone really. But young people are very near the top of my list, caught as they are in the impossible position of being apparently pretty impervious to coronavirus, while having their lives turned completely upside down by it.
All their rites of passage have been disrupted, from first days at school to last days, from exams to results. They’ve been robbed of key moments of bonding, either through celebration or commiseration, and at the same time have had no agency in what has happened to them. Their frustration and resentment, I imagine, must be limitless.
None of mine have been in the A-level fiasco year group, but two are about to go back to university, not really knowing what to expect, while the other one has just finished her course, in the most anti-climactic manner possible.
One day back in March she packed her things and came home, and four years of study came abruptly to an end. She completed her essays and exams online, was sent her results, and that was that. What should have been a bang was instead the tiniest of whimpers: no partying, no ball, no graduation to mark the achievement.
And so, in the spirit of Covid DIY, we decide to do our own ceremony for her, right here in the garden.
At first we can’t decide how serious to be about it. On the one hand, this is an occasion we’re marking, and a milestone, and we’re proud of her and want to express that. But on the other hand, there is no escaping the strangeness, or the underlying sadness of the fact that the expected culmination of her years at university hasn’t happened, and that instead we are on the lawn, making it up as we go along.
So we decide to be playful, which suits us all better. We’re not great ones for over-the-top displays of sentiment, or anything that veers into pomposity. I ask her if she wants me to invite any other friends or family but no, she wants it to be just the five of us, and I understand. Low key feels like the right key at the moment.
In the end, I think the afternoon is a lot more fun than my own graduation 36 years ago, which was a weird day all round. My parents had driven up from Hertfordshire to Hull, fully expecting to meet Ben’s parents, as we’d now been living together for two years. When I greeted them with the news that he wasn’t attending the ceremony, and nor were his parents, they were speechless.
It was perhaps the first time they were shocked by Ben, though it certainly wouldn’t be the last. All I remember of the day now is being bored and hot in an uncomfortable outfit, and having to flatten my spiky hair under a mortar board.
The home-made event for our daughter is shorter and sweeter. It’s the middle of the heatwave, so I wear the dress I would have worn for the real thing, but with flip flops instead of heels. The three kids decide to raid the old dressing up box, emerging with silly wigs, and bunny ears, and the graduating one wears a Slytherin robe and a wizard’s hat.
We’ve set up four socially distanced dining chairs on the lawn, and a music stand at the front, from where Ben delivers a speech which is full of praise, but also fantastical lies about her childhood, which make them all hoot. He hands her a diploma he has printed off, which bears the status of her degree above a photo of her aged about five, grimacing at the camera with a face like Johnny Rotten singing “Pretty Vacant”.
We’ve ordered a mortar board online, so she wears it for 30 seconds and then tosses it high in the air for us to catch the moment in a photograph – her wide grin, her bare feet, the board sailing up above her head into the clear blue sky. And although the whole thing is hilarious, it ends up being sentimental and emotional, and I’m glad we did it. Pretending to be careless, we have somehow hit upon a moment which actually feels meaningful.
So there it is. University is done, she is formally graduated. Now all she has to do is find a job.