After several meetings, recommendations to the president, and weeks of uncertainty for graduating seniors, USF President Paul Fitzgerald announced on April 15 that the University will have an in-person commencement ceremony for the graduating class of 2020 in the future, as soon as it is safe to do so. Until then, Fitzgerald said in the announcement, “We will endeavor to bring elements of graduation to our graduates — and provide opportunities for them to share their accomplishments.”
According to Jacqueline Neesam, executive assistant to the president, these opportunities will come in part through “Mark the Day” celebrations. USF’s social media accounts and website pages will feature celebratory programming on May 14, the date when students would typically graduate, through the Class of 2020 Commencement Hub.
The “Mark the Day” celebrations were suggested by the commencement committee, which sent Fitzgerald its recommendations on April 8. “[The Hub] will launch in early May, [and] will have information about all of these virtual celebrations, videos of congratulatory messages from the president, provost and deans along with digital commencement programs,” Neesam said. Additionally, graduating seniors will receive their caps and gowns by mail.
Tara Minae, a senior nursing major and the committee’s only undergraduate student representative, said it was established right away that an in-person ceremony should not be canceled altogether. “Everyone agrees that an in-person commencement ceremony must take place, and that a virtual ceremony just won’t cut it,” she said in an email. Minae polled seniors over social media about what they hoped to see in place of the mid-May celebrations.
At the committee’s first meeting, Minae shared what she heard from fellow seniors.
In a statement to the committee, Minae said, “We don’t care how far out in the future this will be, whether it’s in December 2020 or May 2021. Commencement is a monumental moment for all students. I want to advocate for all those students who have worked tirelessly for their degree all the while juggling multiple jobs (which is not uncommon at our university). I want to ensure that we get the one moment where we can feel validated, supported and simply proud, all in the presence of our loved ones in attendance at graduation.”
Neesam said the informal polls about commencement replacement options served to inform the committee rather than acting as official polls. Additionally, she said in an email, “Not much consideration was given to what other schools are doing.”
According to Neesam, much of the specific “Mark the Day” programming will be left up to academic deans. “They have the autonomy to create events for their graduates,” she said. “There will be outreach to student affinity groups to encourage them to create mark the day celebrations, too.”