“Congrats to the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s class of 2020. You may now move your tassel from right to left.”

As a senior, I have been waiting four years to hear that phrase. One of the first people in my family to graduate from a four-year university, I earned the right to sit side-by-side, next to my classmates, to victoriously toss my commencement cap high into the air. Yet, as a member of the class of 2020, those words or experience a graduation at Camp Randall Stadium  ̶  as all of the Badgers before me  ̶  instead were announced over a computer screen.

My four years at UW-Madison have been far from easy. Hearing my name and walking across the stage for graduation is what kept me going. All of the sleepless nights, failed exams, weekends spent studying, along with the countless times I called my mom and friends crying because I did not think I would make it, all seem worth knowing I had pomp and circumstances to look forward to.  

COVID-19 has changed life as we know it and as a college student it has forced me to leave campus and move back home to Milwaukee to complete my courses online. Prior to pandemic, I had classes Monday through Friday and worked three jobs part-time as well. I typically spent the weekends hanging out with friends. When I first heard of the COVID-19 outbreak I knew things would change, but I never expected it at this level.

Back in Milwaukee now, I wrapped up my final semester virtually. The transition to online classes had been difficult for most of my classes. Specifically, my French class had been challenging because most of my overall grade is based on in-class participation. 

Losing my jobs during this time has been hard as well, especially because I was saving to relocate and buy a car after graduation. One of my jobs was as a residential assistant. Due to the close quarters and the high population of students we were some of the first to be asked to leave campus if possible. Two days later my family came to help me move out, but little did I know this would be the last time I was on UW-Madison’s campus as a student. 

Although I am ready to be an alum and done with undergrad, I have so many memories that will last forever. I’ll miss all of the teachers in the School of Journalism who have believed in me, I’ll miss walking around campus, I’ll miss football games, I’ll miss all-nighters at college library and I’ll miss the Black Cultural Center. Most of all I’ll miss all of my friends. 

I am disappointed that we did not have an in-person graduation on May 9.  But, I am really sad because I wanted to give my family a reason to come together for something other than a funeral. I wanted to finally be able to wear a cap and gown and cry happy tears because I accomplished something I dreamed of doing for years. I wanted to officially say goodbye to my sisters, friends, and everyone who supported me on campus. I wanted to take senior pictures so I could look back and remember all that I went through to get to where I am now. I wanted to hear my name called as I walk across the stage and receive my diploma, but unfortunately I will not get the chance to do any of this. 

Although my graduation will not be what I dreamed of, I have left my mark at UW-Madison through the work I did with my sorority, the residents whose lives I’ve touched, and through creating the Student Inclusion Coalition (SIC). These last four years have made me stronger and helped me become the woman I am today. I may not be able to have an ideal graduation, but I have learned more than I could ever imagine these last four years and I refuse to let COVID-19 take that away from me. I will continue to make a difference in this world as I move on to my full-time position in Dallas.  

University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate Payton Wade is this year’s recipient of the Morgridge Center for Public Service Excellence in Civic Engagement Undergraduate Award. The award is designed to recognize an undergraduate student who has made community and civic engagement integral to his/her college experience.  This award honors student involvement in the community that promotes strong reciprocal partnerships with community agencies and makes a significant impact. Here is her perspective of the final months of her senior year amid the coronavirus pandemic.