University President Jim Ryan shared a letter with members of the Class of 2020 Wednesday morning explaining that, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the originally proposed October date for Final Exercises has been canceled and rescheduled for the weekend of May 28-30, 2021 — the weekend after the Class of 2021 is scheduled to walk the Lawn.
Ryan shared the message assuming, “as always, that public health regulations by that point permit large gatherings.”
The dates originally set aside in October for Final Exercises would have lined up with fall break for current students. However, last week, the University announced that undergraduate fall break will be canceled so that in-person instruction can finish by Thanksgiving in order to minimize travel to-and-from Charlottesville to limit possible transmission of the virus.
In Charlottesville, according to the Virginia Department of Health, there have been 182 coronavirus cases with 17 hospitalizations and three deaths. Virginia has seen 59,914 cases with 5,955 hospitalizations and 1,661 deaths.
During the date set aside for Final Exercises in October, students would be on Grounds and in classes, which would make it “difficult to accommodate thousands of graduates and their families at the same time,” Ryan said in the letter.
Ryan added that social distancing guidelines would make it hard to hold Final Exercises and individual ceremonies on the Lawn and, in terms of progression of the virus, it seems unlikely that public health restrictions will allow for large gatherings by October. The Virginia Department of Health strongly advises all Virginians to stay home as much as possible, keep at least six feet apart between yourself and others, wear a cloth face covering when keeping six feet apart is difficult, such as in stores or other public places and avoid contact with others.
This fall, in-person dining halls and student activities will be limited to a maximum of 50 people, per Virginia health guidelines. Thousands of people are expected to attend Final Exercises.
In the letter, President Ryan acknowledged that this would be disappointing news for some, but the safety of the members of Class of 2020 and everyone else is the main priority. Holding Final Exercises in May, he said, is best for public health and safety.
He concluded that more information about Final Exercises would be shared as the date gets closer.
Colleen Schinderle, a College graduate of the Class of 2020, said that while she knew Final Exercises were planned for October or May, she is happy to no longer be waiting for an official announcement. However, she is also disappointed to have to wait an extra year to partake in the ceremony, but also relieved that the Class of 2020 will get one more weekend together.
“October would have been nice because I think that it would have felt like it was still sort of an intimate thing for the Class of 2020, rather than having the Class of 2021 graduate before us,” Schinderle told The Cavalier Daily. “It feels more like a shared thing now, but honestly, I'm just glad that we're getting the ceremony at all, given that there's so many schools across the country that just had their graduation outright canceled.”
Schinderle did note that it would feel weird to see people younger than her have the opportunity to walk the Lawn before her, but she remains positive.
“I kind of already consider myself to be a graduate even though it's sort of an intangible thing,” Schinderle said. “I think that [graduation] is something symbolic. And I think that a lot of people my age kind of have already swallowed that pill, ‘like yes I graduated, but I'm not going to be actually physically graduating until later.’”
Camryn Shendow, a Curry graduate of the Class of 2020, said that the reasoning behind the decision for holding Final Exercises in May made logical sense, but she is still very disappointed by the announcement.
As a third-year student who graduated a year early, Shendow noted that she is particularly upset because she had to work especially hard to complete her degree. She feels as though her hard work and achievements mean less because she is graduating after the class that she was originally in.
Shendow also noted that there is a possibility the University is unable to hold Final Exercises in May, given how it is hard to predict whether the pandemic will continue into 2021. She also said that the original October date would make her feel like Final Exercises was less out of reach, given that it would occur five months after graduating.
“I felt like that was more tangible and felt like it would actually be happening soon,” Shendow said about the possibilities October offered. “I'm happy that there's a date and I no longer have to look for it to be in October, since it won't be then, but I feel like it's just been pushed further out of reach to where I'm at the point where I'm like, I guess I'lI get to walk the Lawn when I actually get to walk the walk.”
Payton Grimes, a College graduate of the Class of 2020, said it is sad because she was expecting to have Final Exercises in October. She is especially upset because she was hoping to have Final Exercises around the same time as Young Alumni Reunions, which takes place in the fall and typically draws hundreds of University alumni back to Charlottesville.
Grimes added that the new graduation date can have a large impact on families, especially those living in other states or countries who have to travel long distances to Charlottesville.
“I am also upset at the fact that I am graduating after those who are younger than me,” Grimes said. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, I have many friends who are in the 2021 graduating class, but I put in my time and I feel disappointed that I will be graduating the weekend after.”
Grimes also said she’s worried about being unable to attend the May 2021 ceremony due to her job responsibilities in Washington, D.C. While she hopes she will be able to attend, as graduation is far in the future, she is unsure if she will be allowed to take time off to do so.
“Overall, the whole thing is just really disappointing and I am very unsure about what my future will hold and how this postponement will fit in with my schedule,” Grimes said.