Educating through a Pandemic: Graduation or Video Conference?

Posted on May 18, 2020 by Alisa Lewis

College graduation is one of the final celebrations of a student’s education, but the pandemic has thrown huge roadblocks into traditional celebrations. Each student graduating college was faced with premature “lasts” and the knowledge that they might not get the chance to say a true goodbye to their beloved university. Local colleges are developing plans to ensure students feel as though they were able to conclude their final chapter of college. I spoke with both a graduating UW Oshkosh senior, along with a graduating Lawrence University senior, to find out a bit more about how the lack of a graduation ceremony is affecting them. 

Lawrence Memorial Chapel. Image by Hongwu Zhao.

Sophie Dion-Kirschner, a senior biochemistry/biology major, was a student athlete along with an avid volunteer within the Lawrence University community. She explains that Lawrence responded “really well” to the unprecedented times. Lawrence is hosting a virtual graduation ceremony on June 14, but as of yet has no definitive plans for an in person celebration.   

Despite this, Dion-Kirschner explains that Lawrence, “tried to squeeze things in before leaving campus such as senior nights, and special moments like senior tours. Alumni also donated to give all of us seniors gowns, and we were shipped graduation things to celebrate.” 

When asked about her peers response to the changes, Dion-Kirschner says “[she] feels bad for everyone, but not having a graduation is a big hit for the students, especially those who were first generation graduates.” She also noted that “there are worse positions to be in” and that she is grateful for Lawrence’s response to the changes. 

Dion-Kirschner’s advice for other graduates during this time is that “leaning on your communities is important, stay in touch with those you are close to, and support people when you can.” Dion-Kirschner is continuing her journey in the medical field as a medical scribe in Washington state, while applying to medical school.  

Ally Chard, a graduating human resources and Spanish double major at UWO, served as a student speaker during the university’s virtual spring commencement on May 16. She explains that her reaction to the cancellation of an in-person ceremony mirrored many of her classmates’ feelings. 

UWO Chancellor Andrew Leavitt at the May 2019 Commencement. Things will be looking different this year.

“Initially, I was devastated. I had spent five years on this campus completing my undergrad. Not being able to walk across the auditorium stage felt like a major let down. However, after time passed and the realization sunk in that this is our ‘new normal,’ I grew to accept it. There’s something very comforting about knowing that every high school and college grad in the U.S. is experiencing the same spectrum of emotions. Our shared humanity makes the loss less devastating – we’re all in this together.”

Similar to Lawrence, Chard says UWO did “a really good job of keeping the formalities we’d normally have on graduation day present in a virtual format. For instance, they sent all graduates the plaque we’d normally receive on graduation day when our name was called. Similarly, we submitted a headshot of ourselves to be projected during the virtual ceremony.”

UWO is giving spring 2020 graduates the opportunity to walk during the mid-year ceremony in December.

“None of it is ideal, but they’re doing what they can to recognize our accomplishments after many years of hard work,” Chard says. “Change truly is the only constant. If we can learn to embrace change rather than resent it, we will be far more effective in what we accomplish long term.”

She also offers advice to other graduates in the same position, saying, “job searches are more challenging and the onboarding process looks different than it did pre-pandemic. However, our college career has been preparing us to handle ambiguity. We are resilient and we will rise!”

Chard is the fourth student in UWO history to earn a Fulbright U.S. Student Program award and will be volunteering as an English teacher in Spain at the start of next year. 

We wish Sophie and Ally the best on their journeys, and offer congratulations to all other 2020 graduates!

Events, People

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