COVID@College: Jirehla from Mt. Hood Community College

What is your name, university, class year, and major?

“My name is Jirehla Dushime, but I go by Jiji. I just graduated from Mt. Hood Community College. It’s in Gresham, Oregon. My major is Psychology. I’m transferring to Fitchburg State University in Massachusetts.”

What is going to be your major at your new university?

“Psychology is still going to be my major, I’m thinking about doing a minor or adding another major.”

“I know it’s not the [full] four years but again, you need to celebrate the small milestones that you make, so that you’re able to celebrate the big ones.”

How did your college plan this year’s graduation (all online, indoors/outdoors, etc.)?

“It was hybrid. If you wanted to, you could go to school and then pick up your diploma. So if you wanted to stay at home you could. If you signed up to go to school and take the walk, you had to wear the gown and the whole attire and all. We had a drive-thru graduation, so you’d go in your car and then you come out; other people have to stay in the car,  take pictures while you are taking your walk on the stage. You would meet the President [on stage], continue to take pictures and then after that [exit stage]. Then you’d enter your car and go home. That was it.”

Were guests allowed to attend the graduation?

“Basically, no. I think it was one car per person (the graduate). Before we used to have five cars for just one person. This time around, if you were coming with your friends, it would be only your friends, not your friends and parents. You choose a group of people. Those people will stay in the car, but only one car per person. There were no guests allowed. I don’t know about online, I was going there anyways. I just went there when it was my time.”

When you say one car per person, do you mean one graduate can have as many people that they want in the one car? Or should the graduate have only one friend or only one family member be in the car?

“I mean, let’s be practical here. Are you going to have like five to ten people in one car? 

You can have as many people as you want in your car, as long as they stay in the car. Most people were smart about it, and once you’re done you can go and celebrate with your friends.”

What safety precautions were implemented during the graduation?

One thing I noticed, normally the President will shake your hand, but that did not happen. You just [stood] next to her. At first I felt so awkward…like really, two years for me to just stand next to you? 

Also you have your [diploma] covered but nobody would touch it. They tried to minimize physical contact as much as possible. They didn’t want people touching and touching and touching. There were pick-up times so you don’t clash with other people, and then there were people cheering you on and saying ‘Congratulations!’ and all that; that happened. 

Yeah, I guess it’s the one car, no touching. No one was to touch you.  If you were going to take your diploma cover, you would be able to pick it; you yourself and you’d stand next to the President which made me feel so weird. But you know, it’s COVID-19 so we can’t [touch] anyway.

“…they did the best that they could, and honestly, they put in a lot of effort.”

If you went for the drive-thru graduation, what did that look like? 

“It’s a drive-thru in terms of the people that are in the car. So there was a roundabout and then you would get out. There were these tents. So you’d get out and they would ask you how to pronounce your name. My name was really hard but they did it the way they could. But then, the graduate would walk across stage. Just going up, then the stage then another staircase going down. So when you’d go down, you’d go back to your car and just drive. But there were [Diplomas] on stage, so your name will be announced. You’d go up the stage, take your cover, take a picture with the president and then you’d walk back down and then you’re handed the alumni badge.”

Did you have to maintain a distance of six-feet when you stood next to the President or could you stand next to them?

“There was no physical touch. We had our masks on. You could stand next to her, I didn’t really talk. We weren’t talking.”

“I think seeing people cheering you on as you went there and took that walk…that Maths exam that made you pull an all-nighter was worth it!”

Were the covers on your Diploma laminated, i.e. with plastic? What did the cover look like?

“It is leather, so the moment they put them on the table they [were] sanitized. It was advised that if you touched it, then keep it.”

Did you have any graduation speakers? Such as Student Speakers?

“Honestly, by the time I went to school, the graduation was ending at 2:00 and I went at 1:45. Yeah, I think they did, I have to get a hold of the recording and see. But I think they did, yeah they did. I’m not sure.”

Did graduation plans frequently change?

“No, so I was a member of the Student Government for two terms here. So at first, most people were comfortable doing it online. But I had to walk. I wanted to walk. So I was like, can we do it hybrid? You want to do it online? Sure, stay at home, stay in your nighty and wear something presentable on top. So they went back to see whether [the hybrid] was a possibility and if they could accommodate for so many students. There were people pushing to have it in person but the governor had said that not so many people had been vaccinated [yet to have. So we chose to do a hybrid. So by the time I left, it was hybrid. It was for sure. If you wanted to walk across stage, cool. If you wanted to stay at home, that was also your choice. 

If you wanted to go to school, they would send out an email asking what you wanted to do. Where you would receive your ticket stating: ‘this is one person going to school’, and ‘this is the time I want to pick it up’  to avoid other people staying there and watching. The only people who were there were staff members volunteering to be there, but there were no students there.

We just kept with two possibilities; we want to do it fully in person. But most people were not okay with it. So okay, it was concluded ‘let’s just give you guys a choice’.”

How did you personally feel about the way your college handled graduation?

“Honestly, they did better than I thought. Because initially, I thought that you were just going to drive, get your Diploma and then out. But then you know, people were cheering. You would think that you were done with school but you were actually just starting it; this was just the beginning. 

That was the best they could come up with, and it isn’t like I have something to compare it to. Like ‘this other school did better than my school’. But they did the best that they could, and honestly, they put in a lot of effort. Standing under that sun from 11:00 to 2:00, that’s dedication! I applaud volunteers, I couldn’t have done that. Because I only stood there for a minute and the heat was too much. So thinking about people that stood there for two to three hours, it was actually great. I feel that the way they did it was the best…under such [circumstances] with what’s going on.”

Would you say it was better or worse than how they handled COVID throughout this school year?

“I think the way they handled COVID was way better because they recognized the problem way back in March. And they gave us another week of holidays so they did it well! So they definitely prepared the whole online thing and tried to make it smooth but nothing was smooth about COVID. That was brutal. I feel like they prepared the whole online schooling better than graduation I guess.”

Did state or national guidelines restrict graduation proceedings too much, if you know of any?

“The counties kept closing down, because [residents] weren’t willing to listen. While we kept seeing [other State] cases of COVID going down, ours was just going the other way y’know, going up. I really don’t know, that’s one thing I didn’t do – paying attention to the information. All I know is that schools are closed, that’s all I know. But again it didn’t really affect graduation that much because we had planned it already. It’s a choice, you had to limit the number of people that would come with you. 

But we tried to follow what the guidelines were. The school was closed to the public.”

Did you attend graduation? If yes, what was that experience like for you?

“I did attend graduation. Our expectations were way way too high [we thought it would be like High School Musical]. But I think seeing people cheering you on as you went there and took that walk…that Maths exam that made you pull an all-nighter was worth it!

Personally, I was so happy because I thought it was going to be all quiet, just silence, and we’d just have flyers around school saying ‘Congratulations’. But seeing people really being motivated…even when they were asking [where we were going next on our academic journey], they were really caring. I was like ‘Oh my gosh, why am I leaving?’

But honestly, I was happy seeing so many people. You know, people who know you [or] who don’t know you. I only knew two people but [everyone cheered you on]. It kind of gave me energy to celebrate because at first I thought I was just going to [pick up my Diploma], go to lunch and that’s it. I came back and I was like ‘Yeah, I did it!’”

How did you feel about graduating during a global pandemic? Were you anxious about graduation?

“That’s an understatement. I was scared, I’m not going to lie. I was like ‘Really? Like really? Really?’ 

Okay, I know it’s not the full four years but again, you need to celebrate the small milestones that you make, so that you’re able to celebrate the big ones. I’m actually happy I didn’t graduate last year because I would have been lonely. But this time, at least there were people around you. Given the situation we’re in, it felt nice walking across stage and [being cheered on].

You need to see people you were in class with, people who underestimated you. It was good, but it wasn’t the best.”

“I think seeing people cheering you on as you went there and took that walk…that Maths exam that made you pull an all-nighter was worth it!”

Do you think your college prepared you academically to graduate this year?

“Absolutely, they really did. I don’t know how to share this, but when you’re about to be done, you feel like you’re already done. But in reality, you’re not; you have like five more assignments to do. But I feel like my teachers were really understanding. I went and told them that ‘I am graduating this year. It’s week four and I feel like I’ve already graduated; and they [were understanding]’. 

There was not any hands-on preparation, doing things virtually was hard but they tried their best given all that’s going on.”

Has COVID impacted your plans post-graduation in any way? What are your current plans and what were they before?

“It did not. My plan was to go home this summer, and I’m still going home this summer. So it did not change as much, but being able to go out without really being scared [is a relief]. It really didn’t change much, I just thought that I could go sooner [in the summer] but I couldn’t. I had to wait for a bit before going. So things didn’t change completely, I just had to modify the timing and all that.”

What advice would you give to fellow graduating students in terms of reckoning with the fact that you all had to graduate in the midst of COVID?

“Be grateful you’re done, cause this was really hard. This was hard, [doing] classes online…Most schools are trying to do their best, given the situation we’re in. I encourage [graduates] to be grateful. If [some schools] decide to have a whole celebration, then good for them. But if not, you just have to be considerate…of others; because there are other people who have expressed their concerns about [getting] the vaccine or [being] uncomfortable with in-person. Just celebrate and be grateful. You can go home and celebrate with family [too]. But honestly, it was hard. It was hard to graduate and follow through. The motivation was needed, and half of the time it wasn’t there – nowhere to be seen. But then you just have to be grateful that you were able to stay in school and graduate. So we did it!”

If you are interested in sharing your story, please contact Selin Tukel ( for more details.