by MARY GOODRICH
UMW President Troy Paino has announced that while graduation will not take place as originally scheduled on May 9 due to the CDC’s two month ban on gatherings of more than 50 people- now no more than 10 people in Virginia, a commencement ceremony will be held in the fall.
“We have narrowed our discussion [of possible dates] to October 2020,” said coordinator of community events, Ali Hieber. “We know there are no guarantees that the COVID-19 situation will allow for our traditional outdoor ceremony on Ball Circle, but that is our institutional goal.”
In a March 19 email, Paino said, “Over the next few weeks we will pull together our commencement planning team — along with students, faculty, and staff — to find the right day, time, and way to celebrate during the fall semester.”
Seniors all over the world are dealing with the loss of their months of college. While students feel that cancelling in-person classes is necessary right now for public health measures, this does not lessen the impact the cancellation has on the class of 2020, not being able to say their goodbyes.
Senior English major Emily Shumaker had been relishing the last moments of her senior year, balancing schoolwork and an internship at the Center for Faith and Leadership when she heard the news that school was closing.
“I remember a wave of sadness coming over me when I realized that my undergrad college career would probably end with hitting ‘submit’ and closing my laptop, rather than walking across a stage and celebrating with other grads,” said Shumaker. “It definitely is a big change to process.”
With such a short notice that school was cancelled, many seniors did not have the chance to say their final goodbyes to each other.
“I never realized that my last class was my last class and I did not get to say goodbye to professors or classmates. We love Mary Wash and are mostly just sad that our time there was cut short,” said Shumaker.
Holly Darnell, a senior psychology major, was shocked when she heard the news her senior year was ending early.
“I was really angry and sad at first, and I guess I still am. It sucks because when it comes down to it there’s no one you can really be angry at,” said Darnell. “Everyone’s really just doing the best they can given the situation.”
Events that seniors had been anticipating for months and even years were cancelled. The highlight of senior studio art major Samantha Van Heest’s year was seeing her friends everyday in Melchers, in her studio classes and back in her apartment. Van Heest and her fellow seniors she said are grieving the memories they weren’t able to make.
“Art majors were planning their Senior Show,” said Van Heest. “For three years, I had seen my friends have their final experiences as a college student, and it was a collection of these beautiful moments that I was looking forward to as well. Aside from graduation, we were looking forward to final dances and goodbyes with friends and faculty. It has all been sad to no longer have these as expected.”
Commencement was a topic of anxiety among seniors- many believing graduation would be cancelled for good.
Some colleges across the country are cancelling graduations without plans to reschedule, while other schools such as Harvard, University of Oklahoma and Ohio State University are holding their graduations virtually.
Before seniors were given the announcement of a postponed graduation, many assumed it was gone for good considering the route other colleges were taking.
“Most of my other fellow seniors were very upset about not having a graduation ceremony, not getting to spend that last bit of time on campus,” said Shumaker.
Hieber, who is directly involved with the process of rescheduling graduation, said “Commencement is a multi-faceted celebration that involves coordination of many offices, dozens of volunteers and months to plan. My greatest challenge for rescheduling thus far is the collection of data for the committee to review as we consider the various options.”
Students reacted enthusiastically regarding the news that graduation has been postponed to possibly October while also disappointed that the ceremony was not able to take place as scheduled in May. Hieber said many seniors personally reached out immediately to share their appreciation for the decision.
“I think the news that UMW was postponing… boosted morale for sure. It was a very thoughtful decision on the University’s part, because even though all of this brought our time to an end sooner than expected, the University hasn’t forgotten about us,” said Shumaker. “They are still doing their best to ensure that we are going to be recognized like every other UMW grad….just eventually. Better late than never, in my opinion.”
“I think given the circumstances, it was the best choice UMW could make,” said Van Heest.
Others are relieved about a virtual ceremony not coming to fruition.
“I’m really glad that they’re still working to keep the ceremony in person. I don’t think moving it online would have the same meaning as actually walking across the stage would,” said Darnell.
Though the news does bring excitement, there is an uneasiness and disappointment about the possibility of schedules not lining up in the fall for students to make it to their graduation.
“My main concern with [commencement] being in the fall is that the students who are graduating and going on to graduate programs or have accepted jobs out of state or even the country for that matter will be unable to make arrangements to miss class or work,” said Darnell.
Many graduates will be leaving Virginia after the school year ends to find jobs and internships so not having a concrete date is worrisome to students. There are many unknowns about the entire situation, and without a set date, seniors are unsure if their schedules will allow for traveling back to UMW.
“Even now they haven’t announced a date,” said Darnell. “I kind of understand because everything is so up in the air right now, but it would be easier to work with if they just gave us something to bring to our future professors and employers.”
“I don’t really know if I will be able to make it to the graduation ceremony yet. The future is really fuzzy and it all depends on where I’m at in the fall,” said Shumaker.
However, the fact that the University has listened to the students and decided to reschedule graduation is enough for Shumaker.
“Even if seniors can’t come for whatever reason… it’s honestly the thought that counts,” said Shumaker.
Committee meetings are being held to discuss possible dates for October. A representative from class council has also been invited to participate in this planning process.
As soon as the details are confirmed about the 2020 Commencement, information will be shared via email and additional details will be updated on the UMW Commencement website.
“I know this is an extremely important milestone for each graduate, but it is also a very important day for UMW faculty and staff and we want to do this right,” said Hieber.
The Office of Events and Conferencing is also responding to individual student questions about graduation through the Contact Us form on the UMW Commencement web page.