As the first member of my Turkish family to attend university, my graduation was supposed to be a momentous day. I wanted to experience it all - the celebratory meal, the countless photos, a bouquet of vibrant flowers, and even a UNSW Teddy Bear. My mum, dad, little brother, and grandma would be so happy as they stood by my side and accompanied me on my special day. After many years of studying and spending sleepless nights working hard on my assignments, I'd held a vision of myself in my cap and gown, walking up on stage and shaking the Chancellor's hand as I received my diploma. Instead of such grandeur, I instead got it in the post.
Education has always been such an important part of my life, and its significance was instilled in me from a very young age. Growing up, my parents always encouraged me to work hard and do the best I can with the opportunities and support that were provided to me - something that was never given to them.
My father was born and raised in Turkey, in a middle-class family. As a young boy, he did exceedingly well in school, with a particular interest for Maths and Science. He had pictured himself becoming an engineer one day. Despite finishing high school with great results and being accepted into his dream university, my grandparents simply didn't have enough money to support him. My father's dreams, his years of hard work and his opportunity to succeed in his desired occupation were diminished.
Despite finishing high school with great results and being accepted into his dream university, my grandparents simply didn't have enough money to support him. My father's dreams, his years of hard work and his opportunity to succeed in his desired occupation were diminished.
Hearing him recount his story allowed me to realise how much education meant for him but also allowed me to understand how fortunate I am to have a family that supports me with my own aspirations. And so, for the duration of my schooling period, I made sure to work really hard every single day to make my family proud and to show them how I much I appreciate everything they have done for me.
After finishing my final exam in December 2019, I was ecstatic to have made it. I finally completed my Bachelor of Media (Communication and Journalism) degree at the University of New South Wales. For months on, the only thought that filled my mind was my graduation that was due to take place in May 2020.
Would I wear a white dress or a black dress? How many people could I invite to my graduation? Will they pronounce my surname correctly? Where would we go for dinner to celebrate? Will there be cake?
I couldn't wait to live it up on the night I received my degree. But there was one factor I didn’t consider - COVID-19.
With this global pandemic rapidly taking over our world, restrictions regarding gatherings were established, which resulted in my graduation getting cancelled twice!
Regardless of feeling upset and let down at first, I decided I would not let COVID-19 interfere with my celebration. So, I threw my own ceremony at home instead. Inviting my university bestie, Shaymah Alkhair, whose graduation was also cancelled because of COVID-19, over to my house. We both dressed up in our most chic and elegant outfits. After ordering two graduation teddy bears embroidered with our names, we purchased a bouquet of flowers from the nearby corner shop and substituted our real gowns for Harry Potter cloaks that I once acquired for a birthday party.
Instead of being seated amongst a crowd full of caps, Shaymah and I spent our graduation seated together in my backyard as we sipped tea and discussed life after university. The rest of the day included us taking lots of memorable photographs, posing with our framed diplomas, and even exchanging gifts.
Instead of being seated amongst a crowd full of caps, Shaymah and I spent our graduation seated together in my backyard as we sipped tea and discussed life after university.
To end our day, my family and I then went out to our favourite restaurant in Parramatta and indulged ourselves with a delicious range of Turkish pide. We sat around the table as laughter and happiness radiated throughout the evening. This day turned out to be better than I had ever imagined my graduation to be.
Sure, organised rituals like walking up on stage for a university graduation are unforgettable experiences, but in life unexpected situations take place, and in the end, the only thing that truly mattered to me was being surrounded by my loved ones, accomplishing my goals and making my family proud.
Miray Bakaroglu is a freelance writer.