Graduating from Virtual Love to the Real Thing


We recently celebrated our granddaughter’s graduation from Tulane University over Zoom.

There were certain advantages to the format. We didn’t have to shlep to New Orleans, a place where we’ve been many times and whose charm eludes us. We didn’t have to take endless hikes to uncomfortable folding chairs, far from bathrooms and in the hot humid air, to hear tedious speeches, the words blending one into another.   

I am not a fan of graduations, even for a cherished grandchild or loved ones, and I came very close to boycotting my own graduation from Rutgers University-Newark. It was only the nagging of my mother-in-law, who regarded skipping a graduation as worse than treason, that drew me to the ceremony next to thousands of others, each of us sweating in our caps and gowns.

My graduation from Weequahic High School, in Newark, was the last of the meaningful and moving graduations in my life. Weequahic did it in style.

The actual ceremony began a full semester earlier with a powerful and beautiful event called Torch Day, during which the symbolic torch was passed from our graduating class to our successors. Throughout high school we had awaited the moment when we would finally be seniors, 4A’s as they were called, and the Torch Day ceremony was moving, the music stirring and the lighting dim.

Graduations, on the other hand, are, to me, onerous and sweaty. Virtual events, as we’ve experienced in the last several months, make demands on the participants and the execution requires creativity, but my granddaughter’s virtual ceremony was much better than a traditional graduation. All of the friends and family members who participated did so out of love, commitment, pride and determination; it was not a chore. We loved it.

The ceremony was mercifully short and sweet, speeches lasted just a few minutes. There was no procession, no feeble attempts to try and find your graduate from the ocean of others identically attired, nor the calling out of the each of their names.

And afterward there was the party, over Zoom, with only the closest friends and family invited. We were all asked to write brachot, blessings, for our granddaughter, and then do something creative that would be meaningful to her.

My husband, who has been known to discuss chemistry with her for hours, used all of the chemical elements in the periodic table to write his blessings. For example, happiness started with hydrogen and strontium led to success. I wrote my granddaughter a promissory note that I will hand off ownership of a cast-iron statue of the Greek god Mercury, which sat in my uncle’s dental office until he retired, when she finishes dental school four years from now. 

Her siblings, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends worked hard to craft blessings and create memories that will endure. One gift was a dwarf fruit tree, which she’ll take to school and nurture, a reminder that even in the midst of Covid-19, living continued. There were emotional videos compiled from friends around the world, and notes filled with wisdom folded into lovely origami creations.

The Zoom celebration was beautiful, and the traffic on the way home nonexistent.

And now to a different kind of celebration, honoring our everyday heroes. All of us who are living new kinds of lives and carefully following the rules — six feet of separation, masks ever-ready, gloves and cleaning supplies abundant — are heroes too. Each of us has a fierce commitment to doing things right. Here comes my husband wiping down a can of peas with Lysol, before rinsing it and putting it into the pantry. Here am I, at age 80, cooking more than ever, and doing a darn good job of it — too good, according to my scale — and cleaning endlessly. Our house has truly never been so immaculate.

And, of course, no guests are expected, at least none past our driveway, where we entertain our family, from a distance. They bring their own water and have no expectations of Savta-cooked meals. How ironic. I’m cooking more than ever but not feeding our children and grandchildren. These are the times we live in.

Coping is a skill we all need for living in this new reality. Reality is living with the knowledge that pandemics don’t evaporate and that our job is to follow the rules, share our love and pray for a return to normalcy. Sooner, rather than later.

And graduations, like minyans on laptops, brises without guests or bagels and virtual bnei mitzvah, are adaptations that we create because we treasure life, and our coping skills are thriving in new and truly remarkable ways. We are, each of us, amazing.

Rosanne Skopp is a frequent blogger for the Times of Israel. She lives in West Orange, N.J., and Israel. This essay first appeared in the New Jersey Jewish News.