Penn President Amy Gutmann announced earlier today that this year’s Commencement ceremony is canceled and being replaced with a virtual event in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
In the announcement, Gutmann wrote that the University will hold a virtual Commencement ceremony on May 18 and is considering an on-campus celebration to be held in fall 2020. Penn’s decision not to hold on-campus Commencement ceremonies in May is certainly advisable, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently recommended that gatherings with more than 50 people be canceled or postponed for the next eight weeks. It also follows the decisions of other institutions, such as the University of Michigan and Brigham Young University, which have also recently canceled commencement events. Still, Penn seniors are devastated by the prospect of virtual celebrations alone — a petition to postpone on-campus Commencement ceremonies to a future date gained more than 4000 signatures in just a few hours.
To address these student concerns, Penn should hold an on-campus Commencement celebration at a later date. Although the coronavirus makes May Commencement ceremonies inadvisable, it is important for seniors to have something to look forward to in uncertain times.
The Class of 2020 has been particularly hard-hit by the closure of Penn’s campus for the remainder of the semester. Many seniors were looking forward to their final few weeks at Penn, with some seeing it as the culmination of their college experiences and last moments with their peers and favorite advisors. Now that circumstances have forced them to leave campus, students need something to look forward to. An on-campus commencement ceremony would give seniors a sense of closure to their time at Penn, even if it does not take place in May of their senior year. If students have a chance to return to campus and celebrate with their families and classmates, it will help make up for the last few weeks that they missed.
The closure of Penn’s campus has also forced many students to leave their closest friends unexpectedly. An on-campus Commencement ceremony will let seniors reunite with their classmates in a way that a virtual ceremony cannot replicate. It will provide an opportunity for students to meet the friends they did not get to spend their last semester with and celebrate their time at Penn. Although other alumni events like Homecoming and Alumni Weekend also allow former students to return to campus, these do not bring the entire class together like Commencement does. For seniors, an on-campus Commencement ceremony would provide a valuable opportunity for class unity, particularly in light of all that has happened over the course of the past few weeks.
Commencement is important not only to students, but to families as well, as it is one of the few opportunities many families have to visit Penn’s campus. At an on-campus Commencement, family members have the chance to meet students’ friends, teachers, and mentors. Students are able to better share a significant portion of their lives with the people they are close to, as well as recognizing the efforts and sacrifices from their loved ones that helped them get to Penn. This experience cannot be fully recreated in a virtual ceremony.
Even while taking necessary steps to combat coronavirus, Penn should look out for the Class of 2020 and ensure that students’ experiences are not completely disrupted. Penn seniors have already lost out on other traditions and opportunities to conclude their college experiences. Penn, don’t let them lose commencement too.
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