My American classmates graduated in cap and gown. In India, I graduated during a COVID crisis.


Bangalore, INDIA — Since the pandemic hit last year, I have graduated twice from Arizona State University. I am from India, where my family still lives. When I completed my bachelor’s degree last May, India was in total lockdown and had closed its borders, so I did not know when I would see my family next. I was in Phoenix at that time and it was scary to see India rush to close a nation that was not prepared for a lockdown. 

I worried about my family and hoped they had enough food and essentials to sustain themselves because all stores were shut down, roads were closed, and no movement was allowed. I felt the panic and uncertainty over video calls and news updates. But as India experienced a low fatality rate, that fear thankfully did not last too long.

This year, I finished my Master’s degree, and I hoped things would be different. And they are. My graduating friends in Phoenix got to walk across the stage — something we could not do last year — in a scaled-down celebration. They were dressed in their caps and gowns and no masks, as all of them were fully vaccinated and rejoiced together. I graduated too, but all I could do was scroll through their pictures and double tap to like them and show my love. 

I am home in India now, and I am so thankful to be with my family. But as we celebrate my graduation here this time around, we are in lockdown again. 

The forgotten pandemic

In India, the virus is claiming too many lives, crematoriums are overflowing with bodies and loved ones are unable to say goodbye; people who are sick can’t get the care they need; mental health is compromised; and our frontline heroes are bearing the brunt of a collapsing health care system.

It’s scary to be here now. And the saddest part is that it didn’t have to be this way. 

I flew back to India in December 2020 and finished my last semester here. Restaurants were opening up, masks were mostly a suggestion, big weddings with a thousand or more in attendance were in full swing, people flocked on vacations to beaches, movie theaters were back, and vaccinations would soon begin slowly rolling out.

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