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London, Ont. post-secondary students reflect on a bittersweet graduation amid COVID-19

FILE - In this May 5, 2018, file photo, students attend the University of Toledo commencement ceremony in Toledo, Ohio. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

Graduating from college or university is an important milestone, but amid the coronavirus pandemic, students are missing out on saying goodbye and celebrating that rite of passage.

On March 13, as the COVID-19 pandemic began, Western University and Fanshawe College announced they were temporarily cancelling classes. In-person classes were later cancelled indefinitely and moved online as the situation evolved, and all graduation ceremonies postponed.

“There were no hugs or people saying congratulations and there were no gowns or caps,” said Jordyn Broomhead, a recent Fanshawe graduate.

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Broomhead recently finished a four year bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Leadership at Fanshawe.

Her final project involved interviewing female firefighters in London about what impacted them to go into a male-dominated field. Broomhead tells Global News she was looking forward to those she worked with seeing her final presentation and watching her cross the stage.

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She said it was a bit easier for her to finish school at home, but it wasn’t easy not saying goodbye to friends.

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“I dropped off one of my friends in my class at her apartment, and I did not know that was the last time I would see her, and now she is hours away,” she said.

Now more than 10 hours away, working as a forest firefighter in Northern Ontario, she is holding out hope that she and her classmates will get the opportunity to celebrate their accomplishments when the pandemic is over.

“The final goodbye just wasn’t there this year,” she said.

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Broomhead isn’t the only one with mixed feelings about the recent changes.

Brittany Saunders just finished a two-year police foundations program at Fanshawe and tells Global News COVID-19 is not something she anticipated when she started her studies two years ago.

“It definitely was a stressor not to be able to finish my post-secondary education in a classroom,” Saunders said. “But at the end of the day, I knew my professors and classmates were doing the best they could with what they were given.”

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Like many other students, Saunders said the end of in-person classes came as a surprise, and she was little nervous switching to online courses.

“You really have to keep yourself motivated to do it, and I am one of those people, when I am at home, I can get distracted pretty easily.”

Working from home, Saunders said she had to coordinate schedules with her mom, so the two did not interrupt one another.

Now finished classes and with her summer job on hold, Sunders is still holding out hope they will be able to celebrate their achievements.

“I hope the school will be able to have a graduation ceremony in the fall because it would be nice to thank my professors.”

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