In response to cancelling all in-person campus events this semester due to COVID-19, Truman State University is still giving seniors and their families the opportunity to attend spring 2020 commencement by delaying the ceremony until Aug. 1.
Janet Gooch, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost, worked with the executive leadership team and Student Senate to make an in-person commencement possible for seniors. Gooch said Aug. 1 was chosen because it matches up with the end of the summer session, along with a Board of Governors meeting being scheduled for that Saturday. She said many board members like to participate in commencement, so it seemed like a good way to give them the chance to be involved in addition to students being more likely to be in Kirksville.
Consulting with Student Senate was important in deciding on the date, Gooch said, as a student perspective with the commencement ceremony helped Truman gauge when it could be more likely for students to be able to come to campus. She said there might be a slow start for Missouri to return to normal with Gov. Mike Parson lifting the stay at home order May 4.
Senior Ashley Meredith said Truman made the right call postponing commencement because there are so many graduating seniors from all over the country. Meredith said gathering that many people in a room or at Stokes Stadium would be a major health risk right now. She said she has family who were planning to travel to commencement from Texas, New York, St. Louis and Ohio. Additionally, Meredith said some of the people who were most excited for her graduation were her grandparents, whom she wouldn’t want to get exposed to COVID-19.
Moving commencement to August gives people the hope that it’s still possible to have that commencement moment, Meredith explained, and allows them to make the proper travel arrangements.
Gooch said she hopes commencement will be held in August, however, there is the possibility of commencement being moved again as the future of the COVID-19 pandemic is still uncertain.
There are also multiple ways commencement could be held if needed. Gooch said the ceremony will be held outdoors, but a potential crowd limit would necessitate two outdoor ceremonies. She said another option might be limiting the number of guests a student can bring as a way to maintain crowd size. These are just possibilities and haven’t been decided upon but are important to consider so students can still have a meaningful graduation, Gooch said.
The reason why commencement is important to have is because it recognizes the entire Truman community, Gooch said.
“It’s a celebration of four or more years of very hard work and dedicated commitment to learning from students,” Gooch said. “Faculty participate, so we’re celebrating them and the effort that they’ve put into graduating the class . . . and we’re also celebrating the parents for their support of the students.”
Gooch said Truman is aware not all students will be able to attend August graduation or could choose not to come for a variety of reasons. This is common even during a typical semester commencement, Gooch said. She said the registrar will still collect the names of people who want to participate in the ceremony and more information will be emailed to students as Aug. 1 approaches. Graduation is also streamed online every year with the link being found on Truman’s website commencement section, Gooch said.
While she hopes that as many students can attend as possible, Gooch said diplomas will already be mailed to them, so they will graduate regardless.
“It would be unfortunate if students couldn’t participate in the commencement ceremony, especially if they wanted to,” Gooch said. “Unfortunately in times like this we have to do the best we can and try to accommodate as many people as we can but we know that we’re going to miss them.”
Commencement is less about the group and more about the individual, Meredith said. Reciting names on a Zoom chat wouldn’t be a fair alternative, she said, but would leave a lot more people feeling left out of a life moment as opposed to the inconvenience of arranging travel plans.
While this graduation ceremony might not mean as much to students like herself who are coming back to Truman for graduate school, Meredith said she knows seniors who might not pursue another degree or who were excited to experience commencement.
“I had a roommate before I became a [Student Adviser] and we went to high school together,” Meredith said. “Both of us are college kids who are here on our own. It’s been hard work and it’s been a lot to make it to graduation. It’s a huge let down for her to not be able to walk across the stage and have her moment. She’s worked so hard for it for so many years and that was her moment to feel proud of her accomplishment and to finally say, ‘I did this!’”
Meredith said commencement is just one day and that she already feels proud of her success and accomplishments at Truman. As she doesn’t feel the need to walk across the stage or turn a tassel, Meredith said she won’t be attending commencement. She said she can understand why some people are upset about not getting a commencement because they deserve it given all the work they’ve done over four or more years.
Seniors are entitled to grieve commencement and the end of their college experience not going as planned, Meredith said, but people should be aware these students are still trying to complete school.
“The hardest part for the college seniors right now is that we’re still in classes,” Meredith said. “We’re dealing with all of these things that we’re missing out on, all these moments we don’t get to have. At the end of the day we’re still trying to graduate with a good GPA. We can’t just give up. We can’t just curl up in our beds and go, ‘Oh no. I’m sad.’ We still have to finish our classes.”