Job opportunities, grad school bar some VCU students from returning for Dec. commencement

Illustration by Mai Lan Ireland

Sanjana Ravulapalli, Contributing Writer 

Seniors at VCU and many other schools across the nation won’t be walking across a stage to receive their diplomas in front of loved ones in May. VCU will host a ceremony for all 2020 seniors in December, but for some — due to job opportunities and graduate school plans — returning to Richmond may be impossible.

Students who wish to participate in a virtual graduation ceremony must submit a personalized slide with their photo and a message before April 27, according to an email sent to spring graduates. The slides will be used to create a video and website honoring graduates that will go live on May 8 at 10 a.m.

Many students plan to move to different states or countries after graduation in pursuit of graduate school and job opportunities, complicating a return to VCU on Dec. 12, when the university will host a ceremony for all 2020 graduates.

Public relations major Catalina Currier said she isn’t able to attend the December ceremony because of a job offer in Japan, and flying back isn’t an option.

“I feel like virtual graduation is the best VCU can do right now, and they’re doing a good job, but it’s not exactly what the seniors wanted. My family won’t be able to celebrate my graduation, and sitting through a long virtual event isn’t the same.” – Catalina Currier, VCU senior

Some VCU schools and colleges are planning additional celebratory events for graduating seniors. The university’s political science department sent out a survey to students on April 16 to determine what dates work best for an in-person celebration in either August, September or December. 

The College of Humanities and Sciences announced in January that the university would hold a joint ceremony for all schools and departments in the College of Humanities and Sciences. Some students initially showed concern about how long the ceremony will be, and if combining two graduating classes would make the ceremony longer.

Currier said the decision to combine departmental ceremonies into one graduation upset her and her friends.

“Students want to be recognized for their individual achievements and work they’ve been doing for the past four-plus years,” Currier said, “a single slide on an online PowerPoint just doesn’t feel the same.”

Interdisciplinary studies major Noelle Abrahams said she is also unhappy that VCU is no longer conducting departmental graduations within the College of Humanities and Sciences. 

“I think we could have private departmental graduations with no guests if our department is small enough,” Abrahams said. “I’m really frustrated and disappointed because I worked hard to graduate summa cum laude, but I also do understand that these are unforeseeable circumstances we’re living in.”

A VCU student’s cap reads “what’s next” during the university’s commencement ceremony in May 2019. CT file photo.

James Madison University has rescheduled the spring 2020 commencement until August 6 and 7, “if it’s safe to do so,” the university website states. JMU is hosting a week of virtual celebratory events leading up to May 8, when the university will hold a virtual conferring of degrees.

The University of Virginia has set tentative commencement schedules for either Oct. 9-11 or May 28-30, 2021. The university will hold a virtual commencement ceremony on May 16, according to a statement from UVa. President James Ryan on Friday.

Gov. Ralph Northam has issued a stay-at-home order until June 10, prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people and requiring Virginians to stay home unless leaving for an emergency, work or supplies.

Graphic design major Anna Blatcher is choosing to participate in the virtual graduation, but said she feels like “slides aren’t enough.”

“I think they did okay, but I think they could’ve come up with something more than a slide to honor us,” Blatcher said.

Blatcher said she will most likely not attend the December graduation.

“Most of my peers will no longer be in the area, plus I only wanted to go to my departmental graduation,” Blatcher said. “It isn’t even clear if the December ceremony will just throw us in with the actual December grads, or if we will have our own ceremony.” 

VCU stated on its COVID-19 website that the entire class of 2020 will graduate together on December 12. The website describes the virtual graduation as an “interactive online platform” which will individually recognize students in a virtual commencement and yearbook website.

Some students, such as political science and philosophy major Kaylin Cecchini, are choosing not to participate in the virtual graduation.

“This actually is probably the first time in almost four years that I’m not mad at them for a choice that they’re making regarding something important, but it’s just like not adequate for me personally.” – Kaylin Cecchini, VCU senior

Cecchini said she is unable to attend the December commencement because of future educational opportunities. 

“If everything is back to normal by then, I will be in a different state for law school so I wouldn’t be able to attend the ceremony,” Cecchini said. “But if I were staying in the area, I would have gone.” 

Cecchini said she is one of the first of her family members to graduate from higher education, and for them, watching her graduate was important. 

“We had a whole graduation party planned,” Cecchini said. “So we’re all very, very sad about it.” 

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that VCU announced the College of Humanities and Sciences was to combine its individual graduation ceremonies. It was the College of Humanities and Sciences that made the announcement.

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