Quick Take:

Katharina Pierini first enrolled at UC Santa Cruz in 1994 before life drew her away from her studies. Now a...

Check in, take a photo with Sammy the Slug, walk the stage.

This was the general essence of graduation at UC Santa Cruz this year, and compared to a typical, non-pandemic commencement ceremony, I much preferred this version.

I can be pretty impatient, so the idea of baking in the sun for an hours-long commencement seemed grueling. But this year’s Slug Crossing was much more intimate and personalized, and the best part: It took only 30 minutes.

I was guided through a fenced-off maze with my mom and boyfriend beside me. Each graduate was allotted two guests, who stayed with us for the majority of the crossing, something drastically different from typical ceremonies in which guests are almost a football field away from the graduates.

After going through five different stops, three of which were photo ops, we were released into UC Santa Cruz’s East Meadow overlooking Monterey Bay, where hordes of graduates and their guests were sprawled out, each having their own photoshoots.

I didn’t think slug-crossing was going to be anything more than something I felt obligated to do after four years at UC Santa Cruz. But considering the only other indicator that the school year was over had been the end of a Zoom meeting at 4:07 p.m. on a Friday, walking the stage gave me the closure I didn’t know I needed.

One of the only words that really comes to mind when I think about my last year in college is “bittersweet.” For reasons like Zoom, isolation and burnout from heavy workloads, this year has not been my favorite. But, at the same time, the pause on life that was forced upon me and the rest of the world left a lot of room for consistent reflection and self-realization.

The author absorbs the big moment.
The author absorbs the big moment. Credit: Haneen Zain

I’m fortunate enough to have not lost anyone this past year. And, all things considered, I had it easier than others. I can look back at the lessons I learned this year with pride and know for a fact that they wouldn’t have happened if I kept going through life at the trajectory I was sprinting at.

Before the shutdown, most of my days would start at 3 a.m. and end at midnight. On a less eventful day, it started at 3 a.m. and ended at 9 p.m.

I was a barista at Starbucks, the city news editor of the UC Santa Cruz student-run newspaper, a full-time student, and a performer in an internationally competitive color guard team. I had planned to go to graduate school in the Bay Area immediately after graduating from UC Santa Cruz.

I did everything that I could get my hands on, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Burnout wasn’t really something that I had experienced at that point, and I was convinced that I could do it all.

But looking back at it now, I realize that in my frenzy to do it all, I was missing out on friendships and memories that usually encapsulate college life.

The place I lived in wasn’t anything more than just a bed to sleep on, and my housemates were practically strangers I shared common areas with. It wasn’t until all of the moving parts in my life came to a screeching halt that the people I lived with became those I spent the majority of my newfound free time with, and who are now some of my best friends.

And although the memories we made in the past year were in our home, I’ll cherish those memories for the rest of my life. This year has also taught me how valuable my time is, and that needing a day off doesn’t mean pausing what I’m working toward.

Graduation walk.
Credit: Haneen Zain

I ended up not applying to graduate schools primarily because of the exhaustion that came with online learning and the uncertainty of the future. I graduated with a B.A. in politics, became a shift supervisor at Starbucks and I’m interning at Lookout Santa Cruz.

I’m in a loving and healthy relationship and I have so many more intimate friendships than I did before the pandemic. And most importantly — and arguably the most cliché — I have a healthy relationship with myself.

My ultimate goal hasn’t changed, I still plan on going to graduate school in the near future, but now I know I don’t need to race into the next chapter of my life. Instead, I opened a different chapter in between.

As life starts to pick up again, I know that I’m ready to juggle all of the pieces of my life, but this time with an awareness of the people I’m surrounded with and the time that I want to spend with them and myself.

Congratulations to all of the 2021 graduates, and to the 2020 graduates who finally had the opportunity to walk the stage. It’s been an interesting year, but it’ll only get better from here.