Op-Eds Opinion

Priest: Is this really the only option we have for graduation?

By Danny Priest

Last week, the update came that graduation was going to be happening come May. More specifically, there will be virtual programming on Friday, May 14, followed by eight separate in-person commencements over the weekend.

It seems to me that a big emphasis was made on allowing us students the chance to put on the cap and gown, walk across the stage (or whatever the set-up is) and grab that diploma.  

What isn’t going to be happening (unless Massachusetts significantly raises capacity limits) is family members be allowed to attend the proceedings. 

Maybe this changes and we get two family members, but right now it wouldn’t happen.

Now, I understand this is where we are at with COVID. I know Springfield College’s hands are tied by the capacity limits, this isn’t how anyone wants to do things and no matter what, it’s never going to feel normal. 

But, I still have to ask:

Is this really our only option?

A graduation without ANY family members in attendance?

In a year of many tough decisions, that one is a lot to take in.

Back in 2017, my sister graduated from Worcester State. The day was May 13, to be exact.

I remember a few things from that day. We were in the DCU center in downtown Worcester and I was bored beyond belief.

Worcester State is not a big school. Bigger than Springfield, but still small in terms of student population. That graduation ceremony took FOREVER.

I remember one speaker, Joe Andruzzi, a former offensive lineman with the Patriots who has done some incredible charity related work following his retirement from football. 

He was great and that’s all I remember from the speakers and thousands of other students who received their diplomas that day.

I have no recollection of the college President talking, other speakers or other moments that may have unfolded that day.

Of course, I remember when my sister’s name was called and she crossed that stage. My parents were so happy and proud. My grandparents were there too, as well as some other family members.

Everyone was overjoyed. Like, one of the happiest, proudest moments I have seen from my own family. They were so proud of her, so happy to be there and just had a general excitement and energy to them that was great. 

That always stuck with me.

Graduation really, really matters to families. That day in the DCU center, every name that got called a different section of the crowd would jump up and cheer as they watched their loved one go across that stage.  

It’s not just like a casual cheer either, these families were yelling like their child just hit a March Madness buzzer beater. The excitement is just part of the day because it’s special.

After it ended and we poured outside, people were so happy to take pictures with their diplomas surrounded by family and friends. 

I guess this year, we’re not going to have that chance. 

I think the toughest part is to think that we are going to have to test negative, just to walk across a stage to grab a piece of paper and then trail off and not have any family there with us to enjoy the moment.

They’ll be watching behind a Zoom screen and I’m sure they will be proud, but to not actually be there is not even close to the same. 

I think collectively the class of 2021 has gotten hit pretty hard in terms of their college experience, but that really hurts. 

I don’t know what the answer is or if there even is one. If parents/guardians are fully vaccinated or willing to test negative, why can’t they be allowed to come to campus to watch their loved one walk the stage?

Limit the number to two family members per person. Keep everything outdoors. Maybe family members have to stay in their cars and watch everything via Zoom, but when their loved one’s turn is up, they can come out and watch it themselves?  

It’s not a perfect system, but I’m sure there is a way to make that happen. We have plenty of space on campus to filter family members in and out over that weekend.

That decision is way beyond me, but I know it would mean a ton to students’ families. It’ll never be my call to make, but I wish there were a way to reconsider things.

Sure, Springfield College surveyed us on what mattered the most in terms of a graduation, but even then, it feels like this was going to be the outcome all along. 

Perhaps they could have created a few versions for ceremonies and put that to a vote? Instead, this was the hand we were dealt and it seems like we will just have to go forward with it.

I know for me, I’d rather walk in front of no crowd or a crowd of just a few family members, rather than in front of over 100 art and sciences graduates who I may or may not know. 

It’s nothing against anyone else. I just know years from now when we look back at our graduation, you’re always going to remember the cheers from your loved ones when your name was called over the hundreds of other names that get called on that day. 

We’re losing that with this plan in place. 

I appreciate the effort, I just think the focus of what graduation is meant to be was put in the wrong place in this instance. The cap and gown are cool, walking across the stage is nice, but what does it mean without family there?

Four years of education and commitments, a lot of work and an unprecedented amount of added pandemic stress just for everyone to have their day unfold this way is tough.

Like I said, I won’t forget that day in Worcester. Genuinely, it’s one of the happiest moments I’ve seen for my family and a lot of other families in attendance.

Whether a graduate’s family ran 20 people deep or one person there, everyone shared that collective joy and appreciation of the moment.

The videos, pictures, hugs, laughs and happy tears from everyone showed me that graduation is meant to be a family oriented event. 

COVID has forced the school to send us a number of difficult emails, but this one hit the worst for me.

I never could have pictured a graduation with zero family in attendance.

Photo: Jack Margaros/The Student

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