Saturday was supposed to be commencement, but the ceremony was postponed because of coronavirus pandemic

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HOPEWELL — For Debra Hayes, returning to college to obtain her degree in registered nursing, after 39 years as an licensed practical nurse, was a lifelong dream — one made all that much better because she took on this journey with her youngest daughter, Brianna, who this year was completing her paralegal studies before switching gears to psychology.

Brianna and her mom were looking forward to their Finger Lakes Community College graduation ceremony, which was originally scheduled for Saturday, together.

As with most every event that draws a crowd this spring, the ceremony was postponed as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic. And so both mother and daughter, as well as FLCC staff and school community, are disappointed, together.

“My mom and I were looking forward to graduating together for an extremely long time. We had talked about inviting all of our family and friends to cheer us on at this ceremony,” Brianna said in an email. “My mom is 60 years old and working full time and going to school full time and I just wanted her to be able to walk this stage. I was also looking forward to sharing this moment with my mom to take pictures and just be celebrated together.”

FLCC President Rob Nye said it’s an absolute shame that the school community cannot celebrate in person the accomplishments of students, many of whom like the Hayeses worked hard to earn this recognition.

For instance, Debra worked full time, which she said ordinarily is discouraged because the school program is so intense. Brianna was balancing full-time work, going to school full time and, during one semester, also doing an internship around 15 hours per week.

“It truly is the best day of the year for our entire college,” Nye said. “To not be able to celebrate in person is huge.”

Many students also achieved their educational goals, perhaps when life worked hard to set up obstacles.

FLCC is where Justin Closser, who majored in horticulture, said he was able to turn his life around, while also finding confidence in his academic ability. It provided him with the opportunity to develop into a decorated student, who is transferring to an Ivy League university.

Yes, he is “super disappointed” about graduation, for the missed opportunities to celebrate accomplishments with friends and fellow students. And, he added, this is the most awkward and uncertain time he has ever experienced.

“I doubt it will be easily forgotten,” Closser said in an email. “While it has been stressful at times, it has also afforded me with the opportunity to spend a great deal of time with my fiance Kelly and son Jayden, for which I cannot be more thankful.”

Some students are able to offer perspective on this.

Dr. Titus Howell, 69, a dentist in Rochester who completed studies in the college’s viticulture program as an “exploration” of a post-retirement vocation, will walk whenever, wherever a ceremony ends up being held. He also plans to get together at some point with fellow students to mark a special completion of their learning journeys.

Then and now, Howell has served as a role model and mentor to others.

“I’m the grandpa of the class,” Howell said. “It’s never too old for you to go back into the classroom. I can do it. You can go back.”

The college will recognize 2020 graduates with the release of a “Celebration of Achievement” video on Finger Lakes TV and online Saturday night.

The video is not meant to replace a traditional ceremony. Instead, the Celebration of Achievement is a collection of well-wishes from representatives of FLCC’s academic departments and some special guests during which all the names of graduates scroll on the screen.

The Class of 2020 will be invited back for an in-person event when conditions allow, possibly at the end of August. If not, Nye said, they will definitely be part of next year’s celebration.

For some, that won’t be possible, which Nye said he recognizes and understands.

“When the moment passes, you have to get on with life,” Nye said. “I hope the video offers some sort of appreciation for students and their accomplishments.”

While disappointed now, Brianna and her mom believe they will soon see the pandemic as only a stumbling block on their paths through life and will remember more the support from instructors and what they learned from each of them and the amazing people they met along the way. They will carry with them the will to succeed that was instilled during their time at FLCC.

“My mom and I may not have gotten the ceremony we worked so hard for, but we did this together and got our degrees,” Brianna said. “I am so proud of us!”