Postponed and virtual celebrations: Graduation during COVID-19

Serena Bettis

Is spring still spring without the Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 playing in the distance? 

Colorado State University President Joyce McConnell announced March 19 the University’s decision to push back the May commencement ceremonies to December due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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A graduate shows off her decorated cap.
A Colorado State University graduate shows off her decorated cap after a graduation ceremony on May 12, 2018 at Moby Arena. (Forrest Czarnecki | The Collegian)

“Commencement ceremonies are an incredibly important tradition that mark the completion of years of effort to earn a degree,” Public Safety and Risk Communications Manager Dell Rae Ciaravola wrote in an email to The Collegian. “Our graduates envision the moment of celebration and walking across the commencement stage.”

However, many graduating students feel differently about the postponement of graduation.  

Lauren Thompson, a graduating senior of French literature, language and culture, wrote in an email to The Collegian that she will be attending the University of New Orleans in the fall to pursue a master’s degree in French linguistics and is unsure if she will return to campus for the fall ceremony. 

“The part about graduation that I was looking forward to the most was getting to be able to celebrate with my friends and professors and get closure for this period of my life,” Thompson wrote. “I would not like a virtual graduation because it lessens the legitimacy of the accomplishment.”

Makena Holtcamp, a graduating senior in apparel and merchandising, wrote in an email to The Collegian that she thinks a virtual ceremony, if put together and planned well, would be a nice effort from the University to show its appreciation. 

Ciaravola wrote that, while an in-person celebration in May is not possible, the University is developing plans for an in-person ceremony to celebrate graduates in December. 

“If I am still in Fort Collins and have the time, then I might (attend the December ceremony),” Holtcamp wrote. “I honestly think I would feel a bit awkward going to their graduation, just because I feel like I would be intruding on the fall of 2020’s ceremony time.”

In lieu of a physical celebration, graduates can go to the CSU commencement website May 15 starting at 9:30 a.m. to view video messages from each college. 

I was looking forward to (being) able to celebrate with my friends and professors and get closure for this period of my life. I would not like a virtual graduation because it lessens the legitimacy of the accomplishment.” -Lauren Thompson, French literature, language and culture senior

“We know it’s not the in-person commencement we had all wanted, … but we hope that everyone will be able to celebrate in a way that’s meaningful to them,” wrote Kelly Liggett, managing director of strategic engagement, in an email to The Collegian. “To help in these efforts, we are preparing a series of video programs that will be shared with graduates on Friday, May 15. Each of the eight colleges, plus the Graduate School, will have their own unique videos to share.”

Thompson wrote that she is disappointed in the way the University administration has handled the situation, saying that McConnell is so insistent on using positivity that it makes students and faculty feel invalidated for not being happy with the situation.

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Holtcamp wrote that she appreciates the University giving students the option to walk at the fall commencement, as some universities are not doing that. 

“I would have loved to have a ceremony like how (the) Air Force (Academy) had theirs,” Holtcamp wrote. “They were out on their field spaced (six) feet apart from each other, and only the graduates were allowed, … no audience members. I think that could have been a really cool experience for the spring 2020 class, especially to have it in Canvas Stadium. That way we could have also kept the spring and fall 2020 class ceremonies completely separated.” 

Liggett wrote that the University will release a “digital party pack” one week before the virtual celebration that will include ideas and props, such as suggestions for decorating custom graduation caps, that students can use to celebrate graduation within their homes. She also encourages students to engage on social media using the hashtags #CSURamGrad2020 and #CSUClassof2020.

“The Alumni Association has also ramped up efforts to celebrate graduates with a virtual yearbook that was pushed out to students last week,” Liggett wrote. “They’ve had great participation so far, and it’s a great option for connecting with other grads around graduation.”

All 2020 commencement ceremonies will take place Dec. 18-20 with individual details for each college to be determined in the coming weeks. 

Serena Bettis can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @serenaroseb