The Growing Concern Over York’s Virtual Graduation

Photo By John Walker | Flickr

By Marisa Morrison

At last, another Spring semester nears its end as York College begins major preparations for it’s upcoming 2021 Commencement. 

However, this year’s celebration, set for May 28, may seem a bit familiar to last year’s spring Commencement, in which York has once again decided to take the safer route in planning a virtual ceremony instead of a physical one. Many factors may have led to this campus-wide decision. By taking into consideration weather, occupancy, attendees, and the still present threat of COVID-19, it seems evident as to why campuses like York decided to keep commencement virtual while abiding by safety measures that are still in effect. Social distancing, wearing facial masks, avoiding large gatherings and crowds, and being in quarantine are factors that weighed heavily upon the popular decision to traditionally hold the Commencement physically. 

With the release of the numerous kinds of vaccines to fight against the virus, many campuses, venues, and outdoor locations have tried to resume back to normal by holding graduation ceremonies and events. However, knowing the influx of parents, friends, families and loved ones that typically attend Commencement ceremonies, York’s decision seems justified at most in keeping everyone safe while celebrating those who have studied hard and made it to the end of their journey.

But does York’s decision in keeping a virtual commencement for 2021 reign plausible in the graduating seniors themselves? A recent petition had surfaced on the petition-signing platform Change.com titled “CUNY York Graduation Ceremony.” In it a student, presumably a York 2021 graduate, offers their concerns and ambitions for a proper physical graduation, as well as to showcase the number of students and graduates in favor of having a graduation ceremony at the campus rather than on a virtual platform. In their plea, the student urges the college to reconsider settling for a virtual ceremony in favor of a physical ceremony with appropriate COVID-19 safety measures. “We deserve an actual ceremony,” as it’s written on the petition. “We’ve pushed through our years as well as continued to strive within our studies through COVID-19. There are strategies that can be planned out to ensure everyone’s safety, the student says. With 236 signatures and climbing, it is safe to say that many graduates share the same resentment and concern for their upcoming ceremony and the college’s preparations being made towards the coming day. 

“Let us graduates have the ceremony and celebration that we deserve for the 3-4 years that we have spent in school,” the petition continues. 

These same concerns echo my own, as I myself am a senior undergraduate preparing to finish my course and graduate in 2021. To me, graduation is a one-time event that someone should want to savor for as long as they can. It should be a memorable physical occasion, one that you and your guests can enjoy and celebrate together, through the shouts and cheers from the crowd of family and friends, to the playing of an orchestra under the sound of marching graduates. It takes a step back in reflecting on your hard world and progress that got you this far, and takes a step forward in advancing into adulthood and the start of your bright future. 

But in the sense of a virtual celebration, the occasion becomes less memorable and could easily be compared to the dozens of other virtual meetings I’ve been attending since March 2020. There is no march of the graduates or roaring cheers and shouts from the congregation. There is no performed Pomp and Circumstance or throwing of hats at the call of our formal graduation. It seems like the only thing to look forward to in a virtual graduation is the lagged speech of others who are speaking from their computers, the occasional disconnections and reconnections of those on struggling bandwidths, and of course, the infamous “Your mic is muted” reminder to the speaker who forgot to unmute themselves.

That kind of graduation is certainly one that a student who has devoted their time, energy, and money to ensuring a worthwhile education wouldn’t want to exchange their physical graduation for. It seems like other colleges understand such an ordeal, as campuses such as the University of Florida prepares to host its in-person Spring 2021 commencement ceremony. Although the ceremony is set to be in-person, CDC guidelines such as social distancing and mask wearing are still in effect and are present to ensure that all the graduates and guests remain safe while enjoying the big day. 

But as graduates fortunate enough to attend their ceremonies physically in auditoriums, outdoor settings, or lobbies, partake in snapping instant photos of themselves dressed in their gowns and memoriam with family, friends and loved ones, I’ll most likely be making due with the backdrop of my living room or front porch for photos. Even my family expressed their disappointment with the turnout of York’s preparations for a virtual graduation, but we are planning to still make it a special day nonetheless.  

In the event that there is a virtual ceremony held online and not a physical one on campus, several of my own thoughts lie on how the ceremony will operate. Will there be the same grandeur of speakers, hosts, and representatives as there are in standard physical ceremonies? Will graduates who have persevered through tough, unimaginable circumstances be allowed a place to show their gratification to York as well their message of hope to the graduates? Will it be an interactive experience for both the graduates and the official speakers and hosts, or will graduates be stuck watching a live video on a one-sided conversation? Will graduates be seen on cameras and live video-coverage outside of the graduate line-up programming called MarchingOrder that will take place, or will only the speakers be shown?

In such an instance, what matters most is staying safe amidst a pandemic. And although the situation of graduation is not ideal for most York graduates, it could always have been worse. The worst that could have happened would have been the postponing of our commencement ceremony or the possibility of ceremony being cancelled. For now, I want to focus on my achievement in graduating college and looking forward to beginning my career as a freelance writer.

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