While graduates are now able to walk the stage to get their diploma, commencement this year at SUNY Plattsburgh will still look a little different. Although the administration is working to comply with all state and county guidelines, the senior class shares a general sense of discontent with the current plan.
Presently, SUNY Plattsburgh is preparing to offer a series of five commencement ceremonies May 15 in the Field House gymnasium, at 8 a.m., 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. While no guests are allowed to attend, the administration plans to livestream and keep recordings of the event. Students may sign up for the slot they would like at tickets.plattsburgh.edu, as long as there is still reservation availability.
Senior Meghan Roser, who will graduate this spring with a bachelor’s degree in communication sciences and disorders, began a petition to allow two guests per student to be able to attend the graduation ceremony. After hearing about a student from the Sage Colleges in Albany, whose same petition resulted in success, she was inspired to create one of her own. Roser’s petition can be found at change.org.
“It has been discussed amongst my peers that the allowance of no guests is unjust,” Roser said.
Because of this shared belief, Roser shared that many students claimed they won’t be attending the event in person.
Graduate student Emily Rotingen will be receiving her masters degree this spring, and is equally as disappointed by the restrictions this year.
“It will just be silence as I walk across the stage, which I find to be very sad,” Rotingen said.
Rotingen will be the first in her family to receive her masters degree, and her graduation from college will be the last in her immediate and extended family. Her grandmother has been able to attend every other ceremony for her grandchildren, a great life goal of hers was being able to see all children and grandchildren graduate from college.
Roser shares this same disheartened feeling of not having her family physically able to see her graduate. She, like Rotingen, is the youngest in her immediate family.
“My family got to be in attendance at both of my older siblings’ graduation ceremonies and suddenly they will not be able to watch their youngest graduate?” Roser said.
The shared frustration among students is also tied to the fact that other colleges in New York, including SUNY Binghamton and Clarkson, are allowing each graduating student to invite two guests. Additionally, students do not understand why fully vaccinated guests who present negative COVID-19 tests are unable to attend.
With dissatisfaction creating a sense of unity within the community of seniors, Roser said that, “The petition received nearly 400 supporters in less than 24 hours, and is now reaching nearly 800 supporters in only five short days.”
Seeing that so many people agreed and signed the petition, Roser emailed the SUNY Plattsburgh President, Dean of Students and Provost.
Within this email, she presented the petition, along with the previously explained reasons for its creation. She concluded with the email stating: “I urge you to read the commentary and rethink the decision of how these ceremonies will be managed. Myself, classmates and family will greatly appreciate a reconsideration.”
The response was not what she, and so many students, were hoping for. President Alexander Enyedi made no mention of a willingness to discuss the matter further or to reach a compromise. He instead informed Roser that the school is, “using [their] largest indoor location to allow for the best experience for students,” and followed this up by writing “state limitations and rules for gatherings apply no matter the venue size or location.”
Roser has no further desire to discuss the matter with campus officials unless thoughtful reconsideration is taken on their part.
When asked about willingness to discuss a compromise with the student body, Enyedi said, “the college will never compromise on the health or safety of our community.”
He said health and safety concerns are the leading contributor to the ultimate decision. Enyedi also made mention of an online survey that spring graduates took part in.
“We found graduates’ top priority is to walk across the stage for their diploma,” he said.
While Rotingen is aware that the campus is trying to avoid a super spreader event, she doesn’t understand why accommodations can’t be made to allow two, fully vaccinated guests. Roser shared this same outlook, adding that she “would choose [her] mother and father to attend since they are the reason [she is] a successful young woman today.”
After graduation, Rotingen hopes to get a job as an elementary school educator, and cannot wait to use the hard work that went into getting her degree. For Roser, graduation means going on to SUNY Plattsburgh’s speech-language pathology master’s program.
For the class of 2021, Enyedi had some thoughts to share:
“Everyone at SUNY Plattsburgh is so proud of you and understands all you overcame this year and last year. It’s been so tough, but you completed your degree requirements under the most challenging conditions imaginable. Your determination, spirit and resilience will carry you forward as you launch the next phase of your life. I look forward to seeing every graduate who can attend on May 15 to share your joy.”