With the remainder of spring semester moved online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ursinus College is scrambling to figure out what to do regarding commencement for the class of 2020.
Seniors of the college have expressed considerable disappointment about the loss of their traditional spring celebration, as well as the senior events that accompany it. Over the past couple of weeks, some have also expressed frustration about not knowing whether and what will replace them.
This week, the school announced plans to hold a virtual commencement this spring, and a physical celebration during next year’s Fall Break – although what exactly those events will look like remains undecided.
An email sent by President Brock Blomberg to the Ursinus community included updates about commencement. After the cancellation of the traditional ceremony, a small team of faculty, staff, and graduating seniors worked together to search alternative options, he said.
Blomberg also mentioned a survey, which at the time some seniors had not yet received, asking seniors for feedback about what a “virtual program” in May should look like, and what an on-campus event in the fall might entail.
Associate Dean and professor of English Meredith Goldsmith works on the committee that recruits the honorary degree recipient for commencement. She explained that once the news broke regarding the cancellation, she and her colleagues knew they would have to create something different in its place.
A summer ceremony was considered, but there was too much uncertainty about whether campus would be accessible and safe at that time. The logistical challenges of holding the event in September during Homecoming and Family Weekend were deemed too great.
For the virtual commencement, the school plans to include some aspects of a traditional ceremony, especially for those who won’t be able to attend in October.
“The idea is that whatever we do in May would be kind of like a video package, and would be complementary to the physical celebration that would occur in October,” she said.
“We’re thinking that this may involve the names on a screen, or on a ticker. They won’t be read aloud because we just think it would be awkward and weird. We don’t want to make this like a fake commencement. We want for whatever we do in May, a virtual celebration for the class that could involve some photos and videos of students, some wisdom or speeches that can come from student leaders, like the typical people who would give speeches at commencement,” shared Goldsmith.
Regarding the commencement speaker, Goldsmith said:
“Min Jin Lee is our honorary degree recipient and has been approved by faculty and the board to receive the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters. She may be able to deliver a version of her commencement address via a virtual medium.”*
Aspects still under discussion include the possibility of having faculty winners of the teaching and mentoring awards give well-wishes to the seniors.
The virtual ceremony would be shorter than a typical commencement, given that students won’t be able to walk on stage.
As of now, the date set for the physical celebration is the Sunday of Fall Break. This is not definite, however.
As for the survey, small groups devised by Goldsmith and Dean Todd McKinney, consisting of students they know personally, developed questions soliciting feedback from the senior class. These included questions about interest in a virtual celebration and what students might want from it, and asked students to rank their interest in features such as president’s remarks, student speakers, caps/tassels/cords and more. Lastly, it asked students to express any other ideas, concerns or questions.
For many seniors, commencement is a big deal. It’s important to receive recognition for the hard work that goes into completing a higher education.
* The Grizzly initially incorrectly stated the certainty of Lee’s involvement. We regret the error.