Virtual commencement most inclusive option for TU

Postponing commencement for a later date doesn’t help those who cannot attend.

The coronavirus is impacting all of our lives in ways for which we hadn’t expected or prepared. Though obviously the most important thing right now is for everyone to practice social distancing and stay home in order to flatten the curve, it is not unnoteworthy that individuals celebrating milestones around the world are having to rethink and reschedule their celebrations. One such celebration is college graduation.

It came as no surprise to me when Wednesday, April 1, Interim President Janet Levit emailed students informing them that the May 9 commencement would not take place. Numerous other colleges and universities across the globe had already made this call, and I honestly was wondering why it was taking so long for TU to follow suit. What I was a bit taken aback, and truthfully extremely upset by, was the spring 2020 senior class’s decision to postpone the commencement ceremony to sometime in the fall of this year.

My first issue is with the entire way this decision was reached. The administration at the University of Tulsa had sent out a survey link to students with which they could vote as to how they would like commencement to proceed given the current global pandemic. It is the administration’s job to make these kinds of decisions, not the students’. I understand the desire to give the students a say, particularly after all of backlash of the True Commitment rollout. However, I think in regard to graduation, the vote led to an unfair decision.

Though I disagree with the misplacement of the decision making process, I did fill out the survey. The options on the survey started with a postponed in-person ceremony or a virtual one. Then you were taken to a list of dates to vote for, ranging from summer 2020 to May 2021. Levit’s April 1 email stated that students were “not interested in a virtual commencement” and that “the majority of respondents were in favor of rescheduling it for October; perhaps tied to TU homecoming.”

For a university that is constantly boasting about its diverse student base and prides itself on the fact that its students come from so many different states and countries, it strikes me as cruel irony that the administration would not take into account that many graduating seniors will not be able to return to TU at the drop of a hat for a postponed commencement ceremony. Many May 2020 graduates will already be pursuing further education in graduate and PhD programs come October, and won’t have the financial resources, nor time, to make the trip back to Tulsa. And that’s just talking about students within the United States. What about our international students?

I noticed a lot of strong opinions regarding what to do about graduation circulating on social media, and it really only fueled my anger. In a Zoom meeting I attended last weekend for a TU organization, a fellow graduating senior said that if “anyone votes for online graduation, you are dead to me.” Students on Twitter were creating their own polls in which all of the options were a postponed commencement ceremony; eliminating the idea of a virtual one altogether. I find all of this to be incredibly selfish.
I understand that a large portion of the senior class resides in and around Tulsa full time, but graduation is about every single person who completed their studies and earned their degree. And a large batch of students who would have walked across the stage on May 9 won’t be able to do so in October.

I understand that a virtual graduation doesn’t come with the same level of exciting pomp and circumstance. I too am disappointed that my family won’t be able to see me in my cap and gown and cheer me on from the seats of the Reynolds Center this spring. But I am also incredibly aware that commencement is about far more than just me, and a virtual ceremony was the most inclusive choice given our vast array of students. Seeing as how nothing has yet been scheduled, I would urge administration to reconsider how they intend to proceed with commencement, and take into account the diversity of our graduating class in order to make sure each and every senior has the opportunity to fully celebrate their tremendous accomplishments.

Post Author: Tori Gellman