The midterm week has come and gone and graduation is within sight for many seniors on campus. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected almost every aspect of daily life both on and off-campus. Last year, Utica College had to postpone, and eventually cancel, the 2020 commencement ceremony. College officials are hoping that this year will be different.
On March 15, UC President Laura Casamento released a statement that painted an early picture of what this year’s undergraduate and graduate commencement ceremonies will possibly look like. It is important to remember that the ceremony is at the mercy of the state of the pandemic, so the following details are preliminary and subject to change.
For the undergraduate ceremony, some main points that the statement touched on included multiple in-person ceremonies throughout the day, with the student body being divided into groups to accommodate public-gathering restrictions, as well as the forbiddance of guests/spectators. The ceremonies will last roughly 45-60 minutes and all attending students, faculty and staff must provide either a negative COVID-19 test result and/or proof of vaccination. The wearing of masks will be mandatory and social distancing will be enforced.
Graduate students are not as lucky. For the graduate ceremony, the statement detailed that the hooding process would be next to impossible due to COVID-19 restrictions, so the ceremony, as a result, will be entirely virtual. The ceremony will be streamed and participants will receive their cap, gown, tassel and hood in the mail prior to the ceremony.
These announcements have been met with both praise and criticism. Both students and administrative staff would agree that it is a huge disappointment that students cannot have a normal graduation ceremony. The college, however, seems to have made progress, considering last year’s decision.
The desire to walk across the stage is something that students, both in grade school and at the collegiate level, dream of. While this year’s ceremonies differ in the way they are being held, the college has the student’s best interest at the forefront.
“We’ve heard from many students that the opportunity to walk across the stage and be handed a diploma is a very meaningful experience,” Senior Vice President for Student Life and Enrollment Management Dr. Jeffrey Gates said. “While the ceremony will be very noticeably different without family and guests and absent so many of the college’s customary traditions, we want to do everything in our power to provide that experience for our graduates.”
The elephant in the room is the fact that the undergraduate ceremony will be held without the presence of guests, which includes friends and family members of the graduating class. It is one thing to be able to walk the stage, but it is an entirely different experience receiving your diploma in front of your loved ones.
“I appreciate all the effort the school has put into allowing us to have some sort of commencement ceremony and I respect their work and the final decision,” said Leah Scalise, a senior studying business management. “Unfortunately, in my opinion, this alternative commencement option does not appeal to me. I understand with the current pandemic situation it is difficult to have the ‘normal ceremony,’ but I do not see it as a real commencement ceremony if I am there alone, without my family and friends watching me and celebrating the moment and overall achievement with me.”
While the undergraduate ceremony will be recorded and live-streamed on the College’s website, it does not provide that same experience for parents and students alike to celebrate the achievement together.
“It is different to only be able to show your family a video recording, rather than seeing them in the audience,” Scalise continued. “I just can’t imagine going to my graduation alone, and with the duration only lasting about an hour, I just do not find it worth it.”
The University of Notre Dame, for example, is offering a similar approach to their commencement ceremony, however, they may permit a limited number of guests per student, depending on the state of the pandemic at the time. Other institutions, like the University of Florida and the University of South Carolina, are following suit.
Nonetheless, students are finding it difficult to grasp the idea of attending the ceremony without the presence of family.
“I’m excited to be talking about having commencement and I’m super happy that [the college] is trying to plan one, but I just don’t feel that it will be the same without my parents there,” said Amber Jenkins, a senior studying business management.
While the details above are what the college has currently implemented for commencement, this plan of action may change in the near future. According to the original statement released by UC, should New York State lift COVID-19 restrictions, the College is willing to allow guests to attend the ceremony in-person as well. Only will the course of the pandemic tell whether or not this ceremony will be somewhat normal or not.
“While circumstances this Spring have not turned out as favorably as we – and countless others – had hoped, we will do everything in our power to honor this very special moment in your lives and, to the very best of our ability, offer you the recognition you deserve,” Casamento said.
The undergraduate ceremony is currently set to take place on May 15 and May 16 at the Adirondack Bank Center and the graduate ceremony will be streamed beginning at 10 a.m. on June 12. Students are advised to check their UC emails frequently for updates regarding details on the commencement ceremony.