Class of 2020 reflects on meaning of graduation after UB postpones spring ceremonies
Students share thoughts on postponement and possible new graduation dates, hope for cap and gown refunds
Commencement is a rite of passage for students who spend years studying, interning and researching their way to the graduation stage, but this spring, UB will not hold its scheduled commencement ceremonies for the class of 2020.
Students who dreamed of walking across the stage to the tune of “Pomp and Circumstance” will celebrate the class of 2020’s achievements at a future ceremony on an undetermined date, according to a letter on UB’s website from President Satish Tripathi.
Administrators are now considering alternative graduation arrangements, including postponing graduation until the fall and hosting virtual celebrations of student achievements.
UB joins over 90 universities that postponed celebrations after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised against public gatherings to combat the spread of COVID-19, which has infected over 50,000 people in the U.S. UB tweeted a link to Tripathi’s message that UB is developing “plans to reschedule graduation celebrations” on Tuesday, two days after Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order banning all non-essential gatherings of “any size, for any reason,” went into effect.
When UB finally announced its decision to postpone commencement –– roughly a week after other SUNY schools like Brockport and New Paltz –– students said they were mainly upset to not be celebrating their academic success with family and friends as scheduled, and some said they were unhappy with UB posting the news on Twitter before emailing graduating seniors affected by the change of plans. As of Wednesday afternoon, UB has not emailed students about the postponement.
Students are now wondering when graduation will be and if UB will reimburse graduation tickets and cap and gown costs.
Students like Emma Patterson, a senior communication major, said the postponement was hard to process but “inevitable” after UB canceled the last speaker of its Distinguished Speakers Series and the Student Association canceled all events in the two weeks leading up to the graduation announcement.
“What has happened during the last two weeks has hit students, and specifically seniors, hard,” Patterson said. “The cancellation of graduation was always a thought in the back of my mind, but seeing it actually [be postponed] was a gut punch.”
Anna Tschopp, a senior early childhood studies and psychology major, is “pretty devastated about graduation” and said she was “annoyed” that UB informed students about the plans to reschedule this week.
“My family booked flights and a four-bedroom Airbnb for all of them to stay in [for graduation] months ago,” Tschopp said. “I would be all for participating in the fall commencement. I know some people don’t share as strong of feelings about being able to walk the stage as me, but I worked my butt off to achieve summa cum laude for the clout at graduation.”
Zach Smith, a senior biomedical engineering major, was looking forward to “getting some closure” on his college years at graduation. He said he understands the challenges faced by universities amid the COVID-19 outbreak, however.
“I’m obviously disappointed, but these are crazy and unprecedented times and I think we all understand the necessity of social distancing and postponing large gatherings like commencement,” Smith said. “It just would’ve been nice if UB had a plan in place before putting out this announcement, rather than just telling us that they’re working on it, though.”
Derrick Knighton, a senior computer science major, noticed reminders from the Campus Bookstore to purchase his cap and gown in early March. Now Knighton is hoping UB will refund these costs.
“Fingers crossed,” Knighton said. “[I] already bought a $90 cap and gown.”
Sasha Kouptsova, a senior public health major, is also concerned about the financial burdens students may face due to the postponement.
“It hasn’t hit [me] that I won’t be able to experience my graduation yet, but I can imagine I’ll be sad,” Kouptsova said. “I’m from New York City, so I wouldn’t be able to afford to travel 300 miles for a two-hour ceremony and deal with all the additional expenses like hotels if [commencement was] moved to fall.”
Kouptsova said postponing the ceremony means even more to first-generation college students and underrepresented minorities.
“For students who are from historically underrepresented and marginalized groups, like myself, walking on that stage means so much more than just getting a piece of paper,” Kouptsova said. “It’s showing our families and ourselves that regardless of the adversity we faced in our time at school, we triumphed.”
Elizabeth Napolitano is the assistant news editor and can be reached at Elizabeth.firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @LizKNapolitano