This past Tuesday, President Ryan sent out an email to the University community announcing that the University would move classes online for the rest of the semester and cancel Final Exercises as originally planned. While the safety measures are more than justified, canceling the graduation ceremony would take away the experience for students to walk across the Lawn and receive their diploma. The University must commit to finding a later and safer time frame to hold Final Exercises in order to properly recognize the hard work and dedication of graduating University students.
In President Ryan’s email, he mentions that the University is “focused on developing creating alternatives.” Nothing that the University comes up with will be as meaningful as the graduation that has been promised to students since the day they stepped foot on Grounds. After the many days, weeks and months spent preparing for exams, writing final papers and being involved with student organizations, receiving a diploma at Final Exercises seems like the moment that would make it all worth it. Sadly, the University has not yet fully committed to allowing the Class of 2020 to experience this ceremony, which undermines the four years of strenuous work and the thousands of tuition dollars that students and their families put into their education. Ryan later added on Twitter that the administration is still considering pushing back the date of Final Exercises. Nevertheless, this should be the solution, not an option.
It makes sense that Final Exercises cannot happen in May — the world is in the middle of a pandemic of proportions that no one that is currently living has seen before. However, if the University does not give the graduating fourth-years the recognition they were promised and deserve, the University would ignore its own values by disregarding student achievement and breaking its own honor system.
If President Ryan and the rest of the administration would immediately commit to postponing final exercises for graduating students, it would acknowledge the disappointment fourth-years are currently feeling. This has been a rough time for everyone at the University, especially fourth-years who will never experience it under normal operations again. Any “creative alternative” that does not include simply postponing this ceremony would be equivalent to a cancellation in the eyes of students who deserve this ceremony. Graduating students have made it clear that they want the event postponed, and that any other option will not live up to this tradition. By committing to postponed Final Exercises, the University would demonstrate that it cares about the student body while acknowledging their success and dedication.
The University is not the only institution of higher education that is struggling with this problem right now, but it should look to these other universities for a better solution to this problem that still properly honors graduating students. The University of Texas system recently announced that all graduating students will still receive their diplomas on time, but graduation ceremonies will be postponed until the fall. The Ohio State University has also announced that they will be postponing graduation ceremonies. “Commencement is one of our most cherished traditions, and we remain fully committed to celebrating our graduates at an appropriate time” read a statement from Ohio State’s president. This is messaging that prioritizes safety, but also does not take away potentially one of the most important days in someone’s life.
The University should look to these other decisions made on graduation ceremonies and adjust their own plans accordingly. After announcing that classes would be moved online and almost all parts of the University would be shut down, the Class of 2020 has already been informed that they will not be able to be together as they finish their undergraduate career. Now, they are being told that they will not be able to walk the Lawn this May, which is a huge blow to all that they have achieved over these past four years. President Ryan and the University must recognize the efforts of the fourth-years over these past few years by committing to a postponement of the ceremony this year, no matter how long this postponement must be. As these students are preparing for life after the University in such trying times, a guarantee that they would at least be able to eventually return to participate in Final Exercises with their peers would provide some much needed solace.
Some students have already taken the initiative, pushing the University to still eventually hold final exercises through an online petition with nearly 5,000 signatures. The petition reads, “Walking The Lawn with our classmates to wear the Honors of Honor is something we have toiled for, tirelessly. We desire to postpone the 2020 Final Exercises to a later date… Please do not take this away from the University of Virginia Class of 2020.” The University must postpone Final Exercises instead of deciding on any other alternative in order to properly honor the hard work and academic achievement of all graduating students. Graduating students deserve to know that the University will fulfill their promise in offering this unique tradition of Final Exercises. All who wish to stand in solidarity with these students should follow suit and sign the petition.
Hunter Hess is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at email@example.com.
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.