04 Jun Sentiments About Virtual Graduation
Graduation season came and went. What should have been a momentous occasion in the lives of students was drastically altered by the pandemic. However, students, their families, and schools found new and innovative ways to celebrate the occasion.
Many students had to pack up their dorm rooms in haste and return home or find other housing arrangements. College campuses are now empty except for school resource officers or essential faculty. For graduating students who finished their degrees this year, they had to be quarantined in their home for commencement. This was definitely not what graduating seniors expected.
With social distancing implemented across the United States and the fear of infection spreading in a large group, virtual graduations became commonplace. According to Michigan State University’s President Samuel Stanley, “From a public health standpoint, it simply isn’t safe to hold a traditional ceremony at this time. But the class of 2020 still deserves to celebrate graduation; it is a momentous occasion.” By going forward with a virtual graduation, President Stanley hoped the students would join them online by wearing their caps and gowns to honor them for their hard work.
Due to the continued fear of infection, some colleges opted to push back graduation to later in the year. Grinnell College in Iowa eventually decided to go forward with a virtual commencement, but they also invited students back in either mid-December or next spring to have a formal graduation. Considering that we do not know when the infection will be over, or will at least lessen, it is in the best interest for people to not be in large groups. It was a very nontraditional event. Although students had the option to wear their caps and gowns, they were fortunately still able to share their incredible achievement with families, friends, faculty, and colleagues through video technology.
From the Student’s Perspective
These decisions to either hold a virtual commencement or postpone it to a later date in the year, naturally had been met with disappointment across the country. Students were excited to join their fellow graduates to turn their tassels and throw their caps in the air. Kerestina Khalil, a biology student at Ohio State University, remembered crying upon learning commencement would be virtual. “At first I didn’t really know how to react, and then I just honestly broke down into tears because that’s something that I looked forward to for so long,” she said. As a first generation student, graduation meant that she had succeeded on her journey to become the first person in her family to obtain a degree, but this opportunity was taken away from her.
Another student, Bre Stratham of Delaware Tech University, who suffered from homelessness and physical therapy after a severe accident, was set to graduate this year, too. Upon learning their graduation would be virtual, she said, “It’s kind of humiliating to tell your family. You’ve been bragging about this for so long, telling them to mark it on their calendars. And then to have that just taken away from us is literally devastating.”
Although there are students who were disappointed that their graduation was virtual, there were other students who have understood their school’s decision. Jessica Riedy of Penn State University hoped when this was all over, her university would have one later in the year when the pandemic had ended. Fellow Penn State University student, Timothy Lewis, expressed his surprise over the negative reactions of his graduating class. He believed “Penn State is continuing to do the best it can to celebrate the accomplishments of its students while also adhering to safety guidelines.”
Making the Most Out of It
So while some graduating seniors may have seen this as a tragedy, many schools and organizations were able to come up with creative ways to make their graduating class’s commencement as memorable as possible.
High school seniors in Daytona, Texas had the awesome opportunity to graduate at Texas Motor Speedway while their family members watched from a safe distance in their cars. Argyle High School Valedictorian, Sonali Gandhi, commended her school for going above and beyond for her and her classmates. The Argyle High School staff definitely made this commencement one to remember for their students.
Another high school principal outside of Dallas, Texas made it his mission to congratulate each of his 612 seniors personally by driving 800 miles to each and every one of their homes. He delivered a card and some candy to each of them before taking a selfie to commemorate his special visit. It’s stories like these that give everyone hope during this stressful pandemic.
The United Class of 2020
High schools and universities weren’t the only organizations to help make special memories for the graduating seniors.
Recently, Facebook held “a multi-hour streaming event on Facebook Watch called “#Graduation2020: Facebook and Instagram Celebrate the Class of 2020” for seniors. The key speaker was Oprah Winfrey, who was no stranger to delivering commencement speeches as she has given many in her career. Other notable speakers included Lil Nas X, Simone Biles, Jennifer Garner, and Tom Hanks, a coronavirus survivor. To the students, Ms. Winfrey challenged graduates to not just rebuild society after the pandemic, but to create a more just world as the nation recovers. She spoke about inequality in the world along with highlighting the work of essential workers, telling the students, “You will lead us.” This commencement was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the hard work of all graduating college students amidst this crisis as it allowed them to feel united.
Another virtual ceremony for high school seniors called “Graduate Together” was hosted by LeBron James and televised on multiple stations. Former President Barack Obama delivered the commencement speech, and many other well-known guests such as Zendaya, the Jonas Brothers, and Pharrell Williams spoke or sang. Obama stated, “Right now, when people are scared, it’s easy to be cynical and say, ‘Let me just look out for myself or my family or people who look or think or pray like me.’ But if we’re gonna get through these difficult times, if we’re gonna create a world where everybody has opportunities to find a job and afford college, if we’re gonna save the environment and defeat future pandemics, then we’re gonna have to do it together.” These events truly unified everyone by celebrating the class of 2020 with music, humor, and wisdom.
Even if these non-traditional graduation events were not what these seniors may have expected, it was heartwarming to see the country rally together to make it a truly memorable time for them. The pandemic has brought about uncertainty and worry, but it has also already shown the world what the Class of 2020 is made of–strength, resilience, and unity. We are truly looking forward to seeing what great things our graduates accomplish in the future!