(The Penn Archives)

Graduation is the moment that most students are waiting for to close their college experience.

IUP seniors who are graduating this month will celebrate through a virtual graduation ceremony, and they have a lot to say about it.

While some students could not care less about whether or not they attend a graduation ceremony, the idea of not having a choice about it is extremely disappointing and discouraging to many college students who are graduating. With COVID-19 still running rampant throughout America and case numbers continuing to climb, having an in-person graduation ceremony was simply not a viable option.

Many find that they are now dispirited about the ceremony that will end their college career, and some find it difficult to even want to participate in the virtual version of the ceremony since it will not be the same. The idea of walking across that stage to bring their college years to a close in front of proud family and friends is a sorely lost hope and is not the way they wanted to end this difficult year.

“I’m honestly mad, disappointed and almost cannot put my emotions into words,” Hannah Snyder (senior, biology) said. “I actually didn’t even put my name into the virtual graduation ceremony because I feel that [it’s] like a movie credit scene. You see your name scroll across the screen, and you pretend to hold a piece of paper like your diploma and act happy, but it hurts. I feel that I was robbed of an actual graduation and will never get that.”

Family members who would normally participate in an in-person ceremony are also disappointed and are being forced to offer their congratulations from afar. Despite the difficult nature of the situation, many are trying to keep their chins up and be positive and realistic about why the change must happen.

“My family’s feelings on graduation being virtual is slightly bittersweet,” Ashley O’Hara (senior, middle level education) said. “It is a big moment in my family right now to finally have someone graduate college, and not being able to celebrate that by seeing me walk across the stage and get my diploma is very upsetting to them. It feels as if a big moment was ripped from our families.”

Many students find that it adds insult to injury to have the ceremony be virtual, but they still understand that right now, the in-person ceremony would only make the situation drag out longer.

Despite the safety perks of the virtual graduation ceremony, students still feel cheated from what some would consider to be one of the most important milestones of their lives.

“Graduation being virtual is sad to me,” O’Hara said. “I am the first in my family to actually graduate college, and ever since being accepted into IUP, I always dreamed of my family watching me walk across that stage. However, I am happy that they did give us at least some option for graduation. That way, everyone is able to stay safe.”

Families remain supportive of the graduating classes, from a distance of course, but the lack of opportunity for in-person contact makes congratulatory exchanges hard for students and may even make the occasion seem less meaningful. So many students are struggling with the impacts COVID-19 is having on their lives, and not having a “real” graduation ceremony feels like rubbing salt in a wound for many.

“I don’t really feel that my family cares too much about it being virtual other than the idea that they can see how much not having a graduation affects me,” Snyder said. “My mom isn’t even buying a cap and gown because there will be no ceremony and no pictures, so she feels it is a waste. I feel that I had a part of my college experience stolen from me.”

Seniors are finding it extremely difficult to find the bright side of things, and despite everyone understanding why the virtual ceremony was a necessary evil, it doesn’t make the disappointment of not having a real ceremony less difficult to deal with.

“I am a little upset that graduation is virtual,” Kaitlyn Reilly (senior, middle level education) said. “It’s hard to know that after four-and-a-half years of hard work, I won’t be able to fully participate in the one thing that was an expected piece of closure and celebration. I have been looking forward to graduation for a while now, so it is definitely hard knowing that I won’t be able to walk across the stage for my family.”

Since the cases across the country are rising, many seniors find it easy to agree that the virtual conversion was completely necessary. Keeping people safe and healthy is, and should be, everyone’s top priority at the moment no matter what “normal” milestones of life this goal might disrupt.

“I do think it was smart to make graduation virtual,” Reilly said. “While I am upset that I won’t have a ‘normal’ graduation, I know that it is safer for everyone involved. In fact, even if they were offering small ceremonies for departments, I do not think that I would attend. COVID is something that needs to be taken seriously, and moving graduation online is evidence that IUP is acknowledging that. The biggest positive of virtual graduation is that my family and I will be safe.”

Despite the many ups and downs of 2020, this semester will come to an inevitably virtual close for many seniors who deserve all of the warm congratulatory wishes and uplifting praises from family and friends. If you know a senior that is graduating this semester, do your absolute best to ensure they know how supported and loved they are by you and the other people in their life.

We must also make sure to express to these seniors, and really to any student, how extremely proud we are and how proud they should be for getting through what has likely been one of the most difficult and trying semesters of many people’s lives.

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