When COVID-19 emerged last spring, seniors everywhere had their college experience cut short and celebrated the milestone of their graduation over a screen. This year, Vassar’s Class of 2021 will be able to have an in-person Commencement ceremony on June 6; however, friends and family will have to watch from home.
Students have expressed excitement about ending a difficult year with an in-person ceremony. However, some have also expressed frustration about not being able to have even fully-vaccinated family members and visitors join them on Vassar’s campus for the ceremony.
Graduating senior Marisa Petticord ’21 expressed her dismay: “I view Commencement not only [as one] of my accomplishments over the last four years, but the start of the next step of education and professional life … I will say I am very disappointed my parents will not be able to watch me walk in person.”
Another graduating senior, Morgan Swartz ’21, also shared his disappointment but acknowledged that the College designed Commencement according to COVID-19 safety guidelines: “I would like my parents to be there. I, you know, I feel like everyone wants their parents to be there when they graduate … But I understand that the college has to make their own rules, as much as it is going to disappoint the students.”
Despite qualms regarding this year’s unique Commencement, many Vassar seniors are grateful for even having the possibility to attend an in-person graduation ceremony, unlike last year’s fully-remote one. As Swartz stated, “Commencement is something that I’ve been working towards for the last four years. I’ve been worried about everything going on with COVID and trying to make sure that I can kind of get that closure … So I’m really glad that we do get the possibility of an in-person commencement.
In response to students who were disappointed that fully-vaccinated parents could not see them graduate, Special Assistant to the President and Secretary of the Board of Trustees Wesley Dixon shared in a written correspondence: “While we fully understand and empathize with some students’ frustration, the combination of our advance planning and the quickly updating public health guidance left us in a position where plans had to be locked-in and logistically, we were not able to allow guests to the ceremony in a manner that would ensure everyone’s health and safety.”
According to Dixon, the event was planned by the Commencement Committee, which is made up of members from Campus Activities, administrators, faculty and students, including the VSA president and current seniors. The Committee made sure to accommodate remote seniors in the festivities by offering them an opportunity to come back to campus for senior week and/or Commencement.
“Remote seniors who were eligible for financial aid were eligible for some subsidy if they were interested in choosing to return under this option,” explained Dixon. “For remote seniors who were not able or interested to return [to campus], the Campus Activities Office and the Office of Alumnae/I Affairs and Development developed a ‘Commencement in a Box’ which included memorabilia, stoles (if applicable) and other Commencement materials so those students could celebrate with their families and loved ones along to the Commencement livestream at home,” he added.
Although parents and guests may not be able to attend this year’s Commencement physically, seniors are still able to safely celebrate their final year at Vassar through an in-person ceremony in the context of a world-wide pandemic.