Coronavirus Took Away a Huge Milestone for First-Generation Graduates: 'I Can't Stop Crying'

For them, graduation doesn't just commemorate a personal achievement; it's a collective milestone for the entire family, which they were supposed to celebrate together.
May 27, 2020, 7:22pm

The class of 2020 isn’t exactly going out with a bang, which is a bummer for the millions of 2020 graduates. But for first-generation graduates, the cosmic injustice is even harder to swallow. For them, graduation doesn't just commemorate a personal achievement; it marks a collective milestone for the entire family, which they were supposed to celebrate together.

Tomás Mier's parents had organized a 200-person party. Aron Abrahams' parents had booked a trip to Eritrea to celebrate with his extended family. Maxine Philavong's mom had been planning for this day for over a year.

Now they're all watching their graduation ceremonies from their couch, clinking glasses over Zoom, and throwing their caps up into ceiling fans.

"I can’t stop crying, Max," Yuppadee Bowers told her daughter Maxine, the first member of her family to graduate from college, over the phone. "I'm very, very disappointed not to be there. I'm just so proud of you."

The pandemic hasn’t just stripped first-time graduates — and their families — of this moment; it's also completely altered what lies ahead. All of them will soon be walking out of their living rooms, straight into the worst job market in almost a century.

VICE News explores what it's like to be a first-generation college graduate in the middle of a pandemic, and how families are filling in the void left by all the canceled and postponed celebrations.

Cover: Maxine Philavong, a first-generation graduate from the University of Connecticut. (VICE News Tonight/VICE TV)