Updated: Oct 28, 2021
By: Shay Manuela
In a recent announcement by President Rock Jones, students of the class of ‘20 and ‘21 learned they would have the opportunity to walk across the stage this May. In light of last year’s canceled graduation and the lingering uncertainties of the pandemic’s development, word of an in-person commencement ceremony caused relief for both classes.
When recalling those moments of last spring, Megan Dalton ‘20 shared that she felt “broken-hearted” upon hearing commencement was canceled. “I was on a Travel Learning Course and remember crying in the hotel room being extremely unsure on how things would work out, for school and life in general,” Dalton said.
“Looking back, they were obviously right to cancel everything but at the time I was so angry. The school did a poor job at informing and assisting us, making everything even harder. I had lost half of my Senior year and 100 percent of my graduation and got nothing but a YouTube video,” Dalton added.
While students of the class of ‘20, like Tiffany Moore, had already “accepted the fact” there would be no celebration, the announcement was gratifying following last year’s unforeseen events. “Although I received my degree through the mail, it didn't feel like I got what I earned. I also was looking forward to seeing everyone and their families one time before we all went our separate ways,” Moore said. “However, I think the school did the best they could with what they were given. No one knew exactly what was going on and OWU made informed decisions quickly, even if it wasn't the most desirable solution for students.”
The event, which takes place on May 29, will be held in Selby Stadium to ensure physical distancing. Attendees are expected to wear facial coverings and graduates may register four guests, with a live stream available for those unable to attend. The recent and rising graduates are looking forward to experiencing the traditional elements, such as wearing the cap and gown, taking graduation pictures, and gathering with peers and faculty.
“Coming into the school year I did not expect to have an in-person graduation,” Senior Katie Konopka said. “When I found out, I was ecstatic. Having the chance to walk across the stage is all that I wanted.”
Besides the celebratory customs, students stressed that experiencing commencement also has a deeper emotional significance, with Senior Jeffrey Hudson describing that it “holds a lot of meaning and symbolism” and serves as a “rites of passage into the real world.”
The graduation ceremony is also seen as “recognition” for students’ hard work and “spending the past four years of our lives at Ohio Wesleyan,” Konopka '21 shared. “This is a huge personal achievement for me and my family as I will be the first to graduate from a university in my family,” Jose Matute ‘21 said. “I felt happy when I found out graduation would be in-person, as this meant I would be able to share this moment with my family members and loved ones.”
Student response to the decision to combine both commencements is mixed. “It feels like such a cop-out and I feel bad for the class of ‘21 for getting their day affected as well. I am very close with this class so it is not necessarily a bad thing, just not our ‘own thing’,” Dalton ‘20 said. While classmate Tiffany Moore still looks forward to having a celebration, she was “not happy about it being combined” with the class of ‘21. “There will be a lot more people and I don't think it will feel as special. However, both classes deserve to be celebrated for their accomplishments,” Moore added.
While Senior Katie Konopka “understands how upsetting it was last year,” she “highly dislikes” the idea of a joint ceremony. “Our class has been through even more than the class of ‘20 had to endure and this should be our moment. We have persevered through more than we asked for and I think we are only deserving of a separate commencement,” Konopka said.
Others believed that a communal commencement ceremony is most fitting after the extraordinary circumstances both classes faced.
“It shows the resilience and commemoration of the two classes that achieved this milestone during a pandemic, as I believe that next year’s class may have easier restrictions in light of the race to vaccinate the world,” Matute ‘21 said.
The joint commencement ceremony for both classes mainly prompted concerns about COVID-19 regulations. Moore said that while “many schools have done in-person ceremonies successfully,” combining the ceremonies would result in more visitors.
“A double graduation feels senseless in terms of gathering, they should be on different days to minimize the numbers of attendants,” Dalton ‘20 said. “However, by the end of May cases should have decreased and vaccinations increased, so we will see how it goes.”
Students agree that vaccinations and abiding by guidelines play an important role in the success of an in-person gathering. While Jeffrey Hudson ‘21 described an in-person commencement as “risky,” he added that no problems should arise if all students follow protocol. “A lot of our parents will also be vaccinated by then, which makes me feel a little better,” Hudson added.
Senior Jose Matute “feels good” about the decision to have an in-person commencement ceremony. “I think people have acclimated to social distancing, washing hands, and wearing masks. It's a small sacrifice but a light at the end of the tunnel towards normalcy.”