She Survived SARS, H1N1, and Science Class - but COVID-19 Canceled Her Commencement

Apr 17, 2020

Steffi Kong, a double major in biochemistry and psychology, says she's disappointed to not get a graduation ceremony at Converse College next month. But she also says she'll remember college for a lot more than one event.
Credit provided by Steffi Kong

Steffi Kong grew up in Singapore. At the onset of the century, the country was in the path of the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, a coronavirus similar to COVID-19. Kong contracted SARS, and beat it, but "because of that, my immune system was very compromised," she says.

Three years later, she caught H1N1, which was the swine flu that proved much deadlier and much more far-reaching. 

So to say that Kong was looking forward to seeing her family and walking in Converse College's commencement ceremony next month is an undestatement. But now that the Spartanburg-based college has shifted graduation to a virtual ceremony, Kong and her classmates -- the second-to-last class to ever graduate from an all-female Converse College -- will have to attend online in May.

The school is planning to hold its spring commenceent ceremony in August, but Kong might not be around for it. She'll either be heading off to medical school, which she's applied to, or possibly back in Singapore with the family she'd love to see, but doesn't dare try to right now.

"My parents and I were like, what’s the risk of me going through these transit cities – especially now with no direct flights,"she says. "That’s going to increase my chances of exposure."

She obviously has no wish to take a third swing at a pandemic disease, nor does she plan to expose her family to something they also don't want. So Kong is staying in the states for now.

And while Kong she's disappointed to see yet another pandemic get in the way of something she was really looking forward to, she sees a much bigger picture.

"Yeah, graduation is the highlight of the four years, but that’s not the main thing," she says. "There are other experiences that are going to stay with us for a lifetime, and that’s what really matters.  I remember going on those bus trips with my [tennis] teammates. I remember those days when we had to do sprints and we were literally dying on the court. I remember those close matches when we one and we get into a team hug and everyone is just yelling."

Off the court lends penty of fond memories too.

"You hear a science student screaming in the hallway about their lab reports or you are just in your professor’s office crying. Or just eating carbs during exam week," she says. "These are the things that you remember."