Commencement ceremonies postponed

Students at their commencement ceremony in December 2019 in St. Ignatius Church, where this May’s commencement ceremonies were supposed to take place. SLE FLICKR

Mardy Harding 

Staff Writer

The grand, echoing chamber of St. Ignatius Church will see no sea of graduation caps this May. On March 19, USF announced that, due to campus closing in an attempt to combat the spread of COVID-19, its commencement ceremonies will not take place this spring.

“The evolving and uncertain situation with the pandemic, combined with the city and state orders to shelter-in-place and practice social distancing, led the university to decide to postpone our Spring 2020 commencement until we can safely host commencement ceremonies on campus,” President Paul Fitzgerald said in an email.

The original email to USF students announcing the postponement assured students that their degrees will still be awarded and their diplomas will be mailed to them. Yet, for the class of 2020, being left unable to celebrate their achievements — and all of the traditions that come with them — is still a loss. 

“I was the most excited for the Nursing Pinning Ceremony, which was an opportunity for graduating seniors in the nursing program to take our oath as nurses and be pinned by a loved one,” Shane Yoshiyama said in an email. “I desperately wanted the opportunity to have the space and opportunity to show my appreciation towards them and validate how much they all mean to me. I am equipped with the knowledge to understand that this is the best decision for our community, but a small, very selfish part of me wishes it could’ve been different.”

Samira Salame, a senior sociology major, said the postponement of the ceremonies takes away meaningful opportunities for goodbyes. “My experience at USF has been nothing less than significant to me, and celebrating the ending of this chapter of my life is equally significant,” she said. “I do not get to say a proper goodbye to all of the communities I was a part of. […] I do not get to properly thank them for everything they’ve done for me. I feel as though I am robbed of an experience, of a crucial moment in my young adult life.”

Salame found out from Fitzgerald’s email, which she said was kind. The first thing she did was call her parents and siblings, telling them to cancel the flights they had booked from New York and North Carolina to see her graduate in San Francisco.

Many other students graduating this spring have had to tell their families to cancel their travel plans — for some, from across the country, and for others, further. Elizaveta Ozerova, a second-year graduate student of computer science, said in an email, “My mum had a flight ticket from Russia, so I was dreaming of inviting her to [the] ceremony and see her sitting there and being proud of me. I also applied to be a grad speaker and spent a lot of time on the speech. Everything to make this day perfect.”

Ozerova said she had been expecting the ceremonies to be canceled but does not think anything will replace them.

Salame hopes to see an alternative to commencement. “Hopefully something involving St. Ignatius as our commencement location,” she said. “I am not sure of what this would look like… but dear Lord, I do not want to graduate on Zoom.”

To brainstorm alternatives to this spring’s commencement ceremonies, Fitzgerald appointed a committee of representatives from around the University. According to Fitzgerald, student and faculty representatives are collaborating with staff from the Department of Student Life, development, and marketing departments, as well as administration, to deliver their recommendations by April 15. Bob Just, Student Leadership and Engagement’s assistant director for leadership development, sent seniors a survey on March 31 asking if they would prefer to participate in the Fall 2020 commencement ceremony, have their own commencement during Family Weekend, or have a dedicated weekend in the fall. The committee met on April 2 to discuss the results of the survey, which had 139 respondents.

In an email on April 3, Just said, “After our first meeting yesterday, it was quite clear that we are collectively committed to honoring the commerce experience and are deeply invested in being student-centered as we brainstorm our recommendations to the President.”

“This display of compassion is inspiring and has certainly carried over into the way our committee is working together to ensure the best possible recommendations are put forth to the President,” Just continued. “As we continue to work on behalf of the entire graduating class, please know we are listening and well-informed.”The committee met on April 2 to discuss the results of the survey, which had 139 respondents.

Whenever the commencement ceremonies do take place, Fitzgerald said they hope to involve St. Ignatius church. “We know that USF’s Commencement traditions are very important to students, faculty, parents, and the entire community. We hope to preserve our treasured traditions, but we need to make decisions with safety in mind and with guidance from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and government officials regarding large gatherings,” he said in an email to the Foghorn.For Yoshiyama, there is some solace. When everything is all said and done, the commencement ceremony will not define me as a nurse. […] People are gettisng sick. Families are saying their final goodbyes to loved ones. […] I didn’t sign up to be a nurse to dress up and go binge drinking across the Geary Bars for Senior Stumble. I decided to become a nurse to make a difference.”

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