UMass 2020 graduates react to online commencement

‘It was the best decision for the safety of students and our community’

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By Sophia Gardner, Assistant News Editor

The University of Massachusetts held its virtual commencement celebration on May 8, in response to the COVID-19 crisis. The commencement included a 15-minute streaming video celebration led by Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy, followed by guest speakers and musical performances. The University’s website states that the online commencement does “not replace the traditional campus ceremony, which will be rescheduled.”

As the video celebration began, Subbaswamy acknowledged the unexpectedness of having to hold the celebration online.

“These are strange times, to say the least,” he said. “But we are here to celebrate you, because you deserve it.”

Because the celebration was remote, many students held their own ceremonies at home during the video.

“My roommates and I celebrated by hosting our own ceremony and presentation of homemade degrees after the commencement,” said Esteban Lara, who graduated with a degree in communications and a certificate in film studies. “We baked a cake and drank ‘til sunrise.”

Maria Girardin, who graduated with a degree in communication disorders, also held a celebration during the video.

“It was very cute,” she said. “We had cupcakes and champagne.”

Several students, including Girardin, said they thought UMass had done the best it could, given the circumstances.

“I really liked the commencement,” she said. “It was heartwarming, fun and a good length. My family enjoyed it.”

But Girardin wished she could have been on campus with her peers.

“It was sad that I could not be with my friends and boyfriend at UMass to say goodbye though,” she said.

Ryan Finkst, who graduated from the master’s program with a degree in sustainable building systems, said “It was nice to see many notable people alongside familiar faces contributing a word to our graduating class.”

He also expressed that he thought an online commencement was the safest option given the current public health guidance.

“This was in the best interest of everyone’s health and safety . . .  even though we could not attend a physical commencement, it was nice to watch an engaging and personalized video,” Finkst said.

Lara expressed concerns about the ceremony, centering on graduation traditions lost to a virtual commencement.

“There were complaints about students not receiving their caps and gowns in time even when ordering by the deadline,” he said. “I was hoping UMass would give an update on future plans for graduates, on make-up dates, if we’ll still receive medallions, or even other events like the ball.”

Lara also expressed his wish that the school could have had an in-person commencement: “It feels bittersweet,” he said. “Our college careers built towards this moment. The anticipation and excitement being amongst peers — I wanted that experience.”

However, Lara admitted he thought an online commencement was the best option considering the circumstances.

“I believe it was the best decision for the safety of students and our community.”

On May 7, UMass also launched a website to celebrate the graduating class. The website included all the names of the graduates organized by college.

Sophia Gardner can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @sophieegardnerr.