By Emma Vallelunga
The entire SUNY Plattsburgh class of 2020 will not have the opportunity to walk across a stage, reach for a diploma or turn over a tassel. Just like their May counterparts, seniors graduating this December have mixed feelings about their commencement moving online due to COVID-19.
President Alexander Enyedi announced the decision Oct. 26 via email, explaining December’s graduation ceremony will become virtual and air live Dec.12 at 10 a.m.
“The ongoing challenges associated with COVID-19 are simply too great. We waited as long as we could, but circumstances have dictated this outcome,” Enyedi wrote. “This is a difficult decision as it was for our May graduates. I know how important this day is to all graduates and their families, as well as so many of you who have invested in their lives. As a first-generation college student, I especially recognize how important a milestone this is. We are looking at ways we can make this ceremony special to them and their families.”
Although disappointed, most graduating seniors understood why the decision had to be made, as COVID-19 cases on campus and in Plattsburgh began to rise last month.
Senior human development and family relations major Willa Whittmore said she was impartial to the decision.
“I’m really just over everything when it comes to the pandemic in itself,” Whittmore said. “I feel like it’s gone on so long that it was almost expected. I kind of saw it coming. I guess with all the restrictions that we would’ve had to have in place anyway, it’s probably just for the better.”
Despite the pandemic, senior Ethan King was hoping things would’ve gotten better by the time graduation came around, but ultimately, the reality of an actual ceremony wasn’t in the cards.
“It just didn’t happen for us, and things just didn’t get any better, so we have to unfortunately live with that,” King said. “To me, it’s not the biggest deal in the world. I’ll still have the satisfaction of being a graduate and an alumni and getting my diploma, but it still kind of stinks that we weren’t able to have that full graduation experience that past classes had.”
Although they understood why, some seniors like Milissa Dame expressed frustration with how the college expressed the decision and wished there could’ve been more of a discussion between the administration and the students about other options. Dame even considered starting a petition but said she didn’t want to seem ungrateful to the college for trying to do something special for graduating seniors.
“I would never hate on the school or tell incoming people not to come to the school because of it,” Dame said. “It’s something I’ve accepted, but I just feel like they had a lot of time to come up with an alternative, and they didn’t. Obviously, I understand that there’s still a pandemic going on, so I don’t want to seem selfish, but I know a lot of people are upset. We put a lot of money and time into this school, and it seems kind of like just a virtual roll-call of sorts.”
Other seniors thought holding an in-person ceremony wouldn’t be realistic. Senior public relations major with a journalism minor Dominique Lewis said if the May graduates and their families — who were also supposed to be honored during the December ceremony if it were held in-person — were planning to return to Plattsburgh, too many people in one place would cause a health and safety issue. Even holding a ceremony in May would not have been possible either with how the pandemic has continued.
“I can understand why [May graduates] were upset, but then I also think we were and still are in a pandemic, and the way that numbers rose from when we left campus when we left last semester up until now, I don’t think it would’ve been a good idea,” Lewis said. “Having thousands of people in the Field House would be really unsafe, and I feel like on the college’s part, it would be irresponsible to try and host commencement.”
Some students knew they would still celebrate their graduation from SUNY Plattsburgh regardless of whether a ceremony was held in-person or not. Senior criminal justice major with a sociology minor Dominique Burke said he would attend the virtual ceremony and celebrate at home with his family and a few close friends as best as he can.
“I’ll have my cap, and [even] if it’s going to be online, I’m going to sit there in my living room, or wherever I’m watching it, and when they call my name, I’m going to turn my tassel,” Burke said. “It won’t be a big celebration, but there will still be some recognition of me graduating and moving to another chapter of my life.”
Other seniors wondered whether attending the ceremony would be worth it. Senior history major Caroline Steinbuch moved out of her dorm room in Kent Hall and went home early because of the increase in cases. While she expects her parents will want her to attend, Steinbuch said she had mixed feelings about Zooming in when she still plans on celebrating her graduation in her own way.
“I’m going to [attend] because I should, and I want to experience it, but I don’t think it’s that necessary,” Steinbuch said. “I think it’s going to be memorable because I graduated in COVID, and we had to do it over Zoom, and that’s crazy, but walking across the stage would definitely be nice.”
More details about the ceremony will be shared later this month, according to Enyedi’s email. Facilitated by the Honors Center, the Office of the President is currently looking for graduating seniors interested in preparing a speech for the ceremony. Although a virtual ceremony wasn’t what seniors had in mind when they imagined graduating from college, King said graduating at all during a pandemic was historic on its own.
“It’ll be memorable but not for the right reasons,” King said. “It’s just a different experience. When we’re 15 or 20 years older, we’ll be able to tell our kids we had graduation over the internet. In the next couple years, if the virus disappears and it’s a thing of the past, the future generations are going to have no idea about that unless we tell them. I think this is a very historical moment — a very unfortunate historical moment.”