By Dylan Valic, Features and Managing Editor
Due to the spread of COVID-19, the class of 2020’s commencement ceremony will be held virtually on Wednesday, May 20.
Students received an email from University President Dr. Kimberly Cline on March 23 informing them that the university decided on how to proceed with commencement.
“This difficult decision was made after much deliberation and in response to the recommendations and mandates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, health and government agencies,” the email stated.
Graduating students and their families will meet online a week and a half later than its originally scheduled date of May 8, to celebrate the work they put into getting their degree, rather than having a traditional ceremony on campus.
The decision was made with the safety of everyone who would be in attendance in mind and to ensure that the class of 2020 would be able to celebrate it’s accomplishments, according to Dr. Randy Burd, senior vice president of academic affairs.
“In an effort to protect the health and safety of our students, their families, alumni, and our employees, we moved this year’s Commencement, held to honor the Class of 2020, to a virtual ceremony to be held on Wednesday, May 20th,” Burd said. “ Like many other Universities around the country, this difficult decision was made in response to the recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), health and government agencies and the mandates of the New York ‘stay at home’ order.”
The uncertainty of how long the pandemic will last for was also a deciding factor in the decision.
“Since we do not know either how long the COVID-19 pandemic will last or the order will stay in force, the University wanted to ensure our graduates were recognized for their accomplishments at the end of this semester,” Burd said. “The University knows how important graduation is to our students, so we are also planning a special in-person celebration for 2020 graduates during Homecoming Weekend, to be held Friday, October 16th through Sunday, October 18th.”
Students were quick to voice their displeasure in the announcement. A petition to host a commencement ceremony, started by senior health information management major Adam Pilzer, had 10 signatures before the announcement was made. After students received the email, that number skyrocketed to over one thousand throughout the course of one day.
Pilzer said that graduating seniors aren’t the only ones signing the petition, and that he saw a lot of signatures from parents, alumni and underclassmen as well.
Some students felt that the decision to cancel the in-person commencement ceremony was made too quickly.
“I was shocked they just went straight to virtual right away,” Griffin Ward, senior broadcasting major, said. “I thought they would at least push it back a little bit, or try to do something over the summer when all this calms down.”
A virtual ceremony isn’t the same as walking at graduation, according to Sarina Carbone, a senior early childhood education major. “The class of 2020 has worked hard to get to this point and it just seems unfair that they made a decision so early on instead of waiting until early May to figure out what should be done,” she said.
For some students, the idea of a virtual commencement is hard to take seriously.
“A virtual graduation is nonsensical. I’ve seen memes about having graduation over zoom and never thought it would become a reality,” Heather Felix, senior public relations major, said. “When I told my friends and family, they actually thought I was joking. Not a smart move for a university who tries so desperately to be taken seriously.”
Some students feel that a virtual ceremony is undermining their achievement.
“In my opinion, making the commencement ceremony virtual just takes away from the magnitude of the accomplishment that graduating college is,” Carbone said.
Felix was also disappointed and agreed with Carbone that the school was selling them short. “It’s disrespectful for a university to charge its students hundreds of thousands of dollars for a college education and think an online shoutout is satisfactory,” she said.
In addition to the virtual ceremony, the university is hosting a celebration event on campus for the class of 2020 from Friday, Oct. 16 through Sunday, Oct. 18 to coincide with homecoming weekend. This idea did not sit well with students who wish to receive the recognition they feel they deserve.
“I don’t think that hosting some sort of event during next year’s homecoming gives us the notoriety that we deserve for our achievement,” Carbone said. “Many people who are graduating aren’t even from around here and won’t be here or want to come back in October for some event during homecoming. All I can say is that there is nothing that they can do that is as special as commencement.”
An event put in place to celebrate the school’s graduating class is something too special to be overshadowed by other big events like homecoming weekend, according to Ashley Herkommer, senior digital art and design major.
“We deserve a day, one hundred percent, about us and our achievements, and we also deserve to not have to share it with anyone else,” she said.
Students aren’t the only ones unhappy with the decision. Family members of graduating students can no longer watch their loved one receive their diploma.
“When I told my mom I wasn’t having a real graduation she cried,” Felix said. “Of course it upsets us as seniors who worked hard to achieve the degree, but it’s especially difficult for our families who have raised and supported us through school. It is just as much their day as it is ours. My mom feels robbed of this experience and that’s what breaks my heart.”
Ward is in a similar situation as Felix. “I had family coming down from all over the country just to see me graduate and it’s kind of a moot point now,” he said.
Several students described feeling as though a major life event was stolen from them.
“We kinda feel robbed. With everything going on, I understand why they would not wanna do it, but it’s kinda depressing because we’ve had a lot taken away from us very suddenly,” Ward said. “We go on Spring Break and they cancel school, so we don’t have a chance to say goodbye to our peers, it’s kind of like a lack of closure for us.”
Throughout college, some students can’t help but imagine themselves finally walking across the stage while simultaneously hearing their name called as an official college graduate, according to Carbone.
“It feels like that moment has been stolen from me and everyone else,” Carbone said. “We won’t even get a cap and gown or anything. It just feels very odd. I don’t even understand what a virtual ceremony will be like. How is it possibly going to be as special? I wish they would give this more thought.”
Herkommer is heartbroken over the situation, and expressed that her motivation to graduate was depleted.
“Everything I worked for I feel like was a waste of time,” Herkommer said. “It’s almost insulting for us that this is all we get after all the time and money we gave Post. They could have definitely given us options or even asked our opinions first. This is an event that people wait their whole lives for and remember for the rest of their lives and we don’t get this.”
Cline said she is proud of how the student body has reacted, despite being put in a difficult situation.
“We are proud of the resiliency, compassion and understanding our students have shown while navigating these challenging and uncertain times. We understand that this decision impacts our graduates, as well as their families, who have supported them along their journey,” Cline said. “Graduation is a milestone and is arguably our students’ greatest achievement at this point in their lives. We are dedicated to making the virtual Commencement ceremony meaningful and memorable. And, we look forward to welcoming our 2020 graduates and their families to the special in-person celebration during Homecoming Weekend.”
This story is ongoing as we await more information about graduation and the event planned for next semester.