By Olivia Bousquet
Four years of late night studying. Four years of tests, homework and essays. Four years of memories with lifelong friends. Four dedicated years gone by just to sit in front of a computer screen to see your name scroll through with countless others.
Unfortunately, you graduated during a pandemic.
Hopeful May and December 2020 SUNY Plattsburgh graduates were waiting anxiously to walk across stage to receive their diplomas. Students who worked tirelessly to receive a diploma want a graduation to remember.
However, masks and socially distancing are clearly not enough to give the recent graduates an in-person celebration. Back in May, the school did try their hardest to give the spring graduates a ceremony, while combating the new and unforeseeable changes COVID-19 would bring to everyone’s life. However, SUNY Plattsburgh promised the May graduates a chance to come back for winter graduation, giving them the chance to physically walk across the stage.
Unfortunately, there will be no in-person graduation again.
SUNY Plattsburgh President Alexander Enyedi sent out an email Oct. 26 announcing a new plan for graduation, less than two months before the Dec. 12 winter graduation. Enyedi stated the new plan will be a “virtual program that will air live at 10 a.m.” during the intended time for graduation, similar to the May plan. Further details will be released in November.
The spike in COVID-19 cases is surely a correlation to the long waited decision from the college. On Nov. 1 there were 29 cases within the campus community, but that makes up the majority within Clinton County, which counts 34 active cases on the Clinton County Health Department’s website. Forty students and 10 employees are currently in mandatory or precautionary quarantine.
“We already got a graduation. What was missing from that was the walking part, and it was expressed to us that you can come back in December and you are free to walk. To be honest, I didn’t think that was ever going to happen,” recently graduated SUNY Plattsburgh alumna Nyela Graham said. “I just thought that it was kind of a really weak promise to make because no one had any idea of how this pandemic is going to go, and they should have just known that by December, things were probably not going to be that good.”
Graham wasn’t planning on coming up to walk after the increase in positive COVID-19 cases and the terrible weather that surrounds the winter months. She already has her diploma and enjoyed the virtual ceremony, despite not having an in-person graduation.
“It would feel odd to come back to Plattsburgh and walk after closing this door,” Graham said.
However, she didn’t know about the change until she saw it on Twitter, and then heard from a friend that the college emailed her old school account the updated graduation information.
“Honestly, I find the email a slap in the face. I’m not gonna lie because it’s kinda worded like ‘Well, you’re never gonna get the chance to walk, good luck — also you’re a part of the Alumni Association now, so give us money,’” Graham said.
The Alumni Association is known for asking SUNY Plattsburgh graduates for donations, which can be hard for anyone during the current economic climate due to COVID-19.
College students rack up debt that will take them years of their life to pay off, and the college is already asking for more money. But, Graham understands SUNY Plattsburgh’s reasoning during this time.
“I think it’s really hard for colleges at the moment to navigate this because there is so much uncertainty. Obviously, they make money from students being in class and they’re losing money because of [COVID-19],” Graham said. “So. you do have to give colleges credit in the sense that they’re navigating this the same way we all are — going day by day, making plans and maybe it doesn’t happen. So in that sense, I have sympathy there.”
With December graduation coming up, families planning on watching their loved ones walk across the stage are going to have to find refunds for booked hotel rooms. Thirty-six days from graduation and SUNY Plattsburgh has just decided an in-person graduation isn’t feasible.
Hopefully, all the May and December graduates didn’t have their hopes too high. Every decision since March has been an uncertain and hasty one — students should have expected a similar decision to May’s graduation. The country has not gotten better at handling COVID-19, so the unfortunate reality of a virtual graduation was expected. But, not this late in the semester.
For Emily Malone, a May 2020 SUNY Plattsburgh graduate, her family learned about the new graduation plan while scrolling through Facebook, which is an upsetting way to relive the disappointments from earlier in the year. There was no inkling to a cancelation, Malone said.
Her family had hotel rooms booked and were expecting a visit to Plattsburgh to see Malone walk.
“[An in-person graduation] puts the community at risk because there would be people traveling up to Plattsburgh with their families from places where COVID is a lot more prevalent, so I understand and respect that decision,” Malone said. “It’s just more about the president passing it to the side and not really trying to make a plan for next summer or something. We graduated; we all should still get the chance to walk.”
COVID-19 has been an enigma since March. Our country did not seem to know how to keep positive cases low and still does not.
Despite New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s best attempts to keep New Yorkers safe, a graduation would cause an influx of cases in Clinton County, which hasn’t been severely affected. Spring graduations are typically larger than winter ones, so adding more people from both events into a closed room would not work. But, it’s unfortunate the college is not attempting to find a future time for the 2020 graduates to walk at all.
Last semester, students were kicked off campus unexpectedly in March before the start of spring break. Seniors were cut off from an exciting last semester. There would be no final parties, final friend hang outs and no typical graduation.
“I didn’t get to say goodbye to anybody. It was just ‘all right we’re closing,’ and half of my friends went home, and I’m probably never going to see them again. It’s disappointing that now, when we all thought that we were going to be able to graduate in December, [SUNY Plattsburgh] wasn’t taking the right precautions to make sure that was going to be doable,” Malone said. “I understand why they had to cancel graduation, but the fact that they’re just going to move it to virtual and hope for the best for the next round of students is s—y.”
Many students are first-generation graduates and are missing out on a monumental event. While the safety of the community comes first, SUNY Plattsburgh should have more time allotted to prepare for another virtual graduation. After promising a walk to the May 2020 graduates, they will need to make this one more special.
Liam Mullings, a SUNY Plattsburgh May 2020 graduate, is an international first-generation college graduate, which is an important accomplishment for him and his family. Now living back home in London, Mullings will not get to the chance to celebrate graduating with friends and family. He intended on coming back to Plattsburgh in December, but he expected the college to cancel the in-person graduation after SUNY Plattsburgh announced its cancelation of spring break for spring 2021.
“I feel like that would have been an appropriate time to address it rather than just ignore it until November,” Mullings said.
His mom was more upset about the cancelation than him, as his family was going to turn graduation into a vacation in the U.S.
“It was quite abrupt,” Mullings said about everyone unexpectedly leaving campus last semester due to the pandemic. “Seeing my friends was one of the things I was looking forward to at graduation as well. It was an excuse to go back and see everyone ‘cause I didn’t really get to say goodbye. It was spring break at the time, so a lot of people didn’t even come back after that. So it was just like, ‘well that’s it then.’”
For international students, like Mullings, graduation was the last opportunity to say goodbye to their friends and close an important part of their life. Mullings only chance to have a graduation ceremony is now. He has completed the schooling he needs, but Mullings doesn’t feel like he’s accomplished it yet.
First-generation graduates need to be given an opportunity to celebrate a massive accomplishment, even if it’s after the pandemic calms down.
Students work hard to earn their degrees. They should be given more than a virtual ceremony to watch their name slide by on a black screen. Graduates are not another name to check off in the alumni book to hand over money.
They deserve better.