Commencement for spring and winter 2020 graduates will be pushed to May 2021. Graphic by Emma Nobbe.
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Butler University sent out an email on Oct. 7 detailing a delay in commencement ceremonies for May, August and December 2020 graduates. This email came roughly two months before the previously-planned winter commencement ceremony, which was supposed to include students from last May’s graduating class.
There are three sets of students who will be graduating at this May 8 and 9, 2021 ceremony: the spring 2020 graduates who had a virtual commencement, the December 2020 graduates and the May 2021 graduates.
For Butler senior Kylie Stine, who was planning on graduating in December, these changes are disappointing, but understandable.
“The email was packed with a lot of information for seniors graduating in December, seniors who had graduated in May, people who were supposed to study abroad next semester,” Stine, a double major in Spanish and strategic communication, said. “So, on the one hand it was disappointing, but at the same time I felt for all the other people who were having all their plans cancelled as well because I know that the seniors from last May really fought hard to get a graduation with that petition they had.”
Stine said students set to graduate last May — when the campus was first shut down — organized around a petition created by Butler alumni Allie Moffett, a senior at the time. Stine said Butler was initially going to cancel graduation in May 2020, but Moffett created a petition to send out to the 2020 senior class, arguing that the graduation should be moved to a later date rather than cancelled outright.
Stine said the petition got over a thousand signatures and helped persuade the university to seek alternative plans for commencement and move the ceremony to a future date.
Jasmine Lykins, a senior strategic communication major, said she also feels for the class of 2020 graduates, and she does not think they will overshadow her graduation with the class of 2021.
“Honestly, I feel like, if anything, the other classes are being sidelined,” Lykins said. “A graduation ceremony is supposed to be a form of recognition for all of your hard work and the time you’ve given to your institution. And I feel like for the people that were supposed to graduate in May of 2020, the recognition of their hard work keeps being delayed. I can’t imagine how frustrating it must feel.”
A senior from the 2020 graduating class, Joshua Doering, said he wasn’t completely surprised by the university’s decision to postpone graduation.
“[Back in May of 2020] I was happy that the decision was made to postpone it and still try and do an in-person, formal ceremony as opposed to just trying to throw something together virtually,” Doering said. “I figured that was the best-case scenario, there’s just nothing you can do when a global pandemic hits, you’ve gotta roll with the punches and adjust as best as you can.”
Doering continued to note that in between last May and now, there was little communication from the university about commencement, and he began to have doubts that the December ceremony was still going to happen.
“As far as I knew, two weeks ago, the plan was still to have commencement in December,” Doering said. “I was very skeptical at that point because obviously things are not exactly getting better around the country, and also with the fact that there were no students that were going to be on campus at that point [December 18], I was finding it hard — again, going back to the same logic as before — to rationalize how there was going to be a commencement ceremony when people had decided it wasn’t safe to have students on campus and everybody was going home at Thanksgiving in order to try and keep everybody safe and reduce the travel back and forth.”
However, Doering said some May 2020 graduates didn’t receive the Oct. 7 email that commencement was delayed until May 2021.
“We got an email from Dr. Barnett [Mary Proffitt sent it on behalf of Dr. Barnett] apologizing for the fact that apparently some people didn’t get it,” Doering said. “I think most people got it, but apparently there were some people that did not receive that email and somehow found out through other people or through people posting on social media.”
Aside from this mistake made by the university, Doering said that he is hopeful the ceremony will still be able to take place in the spring of 2021, and that he plans to attend.
“Originally I kind of felt like if it was a full year after we graduated it sort of lost the significance and wouldn’t be worth it,” Doering said. “But the more I think about it, I’ve kind of changed my stance on that in the past handful of months. It would be really nice to see everybody again and get to do something to celebrate.”
Stine also said she is holding on to hope for the commencement ceremony in May of 2021.
“We always want something to look forward to, so we’re always trying to have the positive perspective of ‘okay, it’s fine, we’ll just look forward to spring semester when hopefully we get some sort of normalcy again,’” Stine said. “And even if that isn’t true, I think having something to hold on to to keep you going, even if you have to keep postponing that, the positive light at the end of the tunnel is helpful.”
Doering expressed his feeling of why the commencement ceremony was important in his eyes.
“For me personally, I don’t feel like I’m missing all that much in terms of the graduation ceremony and going through commencement,” Doering said. “I have my diploma. The more important thing for me was being able to see out my college career with the people I had spent those four years with. That was definitely the hardest part of having senior year cut short like that, and was the biggest reason I was looking forward to commencement. You went from being in class with these people every day to ‘I don’t know when I’ll see you again, if I’ll see you again.’”
Stine also shared the desire to celebrate four years of friendships and work; she said at some point, something should be done to recognize these achievements, even if an in-person commencement isn’t possible.
“It would be nice if eventually, instead of postponing until better days because we don’t know when better days will be, if we could find some way to still celebrate the classes, still come together even if it’s not in person,” Stine said. “Just to recognize all of the hard work that a lot of people have put in. Especially now because we’re working… really hard amidst a lot going on in the world. So to just kind of have that celebratory ceremony not happening is disappointing and disheartening.”
These mixed emotions towards commencement can be explained in some part by the uniqueness of the situation. Stine said the current instability has presented its own difficulties in trying to cope with what can feel like a constant change of plans.
“I know that all of the alumni or older people who had a senior year are very well-intentioned in the advice that they try to give,” Stine said. “But, at the same time it’s hard because, other than the seniors last year who had the latter half of their second semester canceled, no one that I know that’s alive right now has gone through their entire senior year in the midst of a pandemic. So, I appreciate the advice and the well wishes, but at the same time it’s hard because we’re living in it and it’s different than it seems from the outside.”
For now, the plan is to hold commencement over two days in early May for all parties that were supposed to graduate last May, last August, this December and this spring. Whether the ceremonies will actually occur or not is still up for debate, though, and many students wait for formalized plans.