Virtual Commencement: An Unceremonious End to Four Years


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Last month, I, like every other senior at St. John’s University, learned that the University has decided to hold our Commencement ceremony virtually. I opened the email from President Shanley and laughed when I read it. Not because I was happy with the decision, and not because I think it’s funny that our senior class will be denied a once in a lifetime event after enduring our last three semesters under such challenging circumstances. I laughed because after falling short of supporting its students repeatedly since the start of the pandemic, it seemed almost comical that St. John’s would decide to hold a virtual Commencement ceremony with more than three months to go until  the semester ends.

St. John’s University raised our tuition by 3% during a  pandemic. They changed the online systems we’ve used for years to “” and Canvas as we were all trying to adjust to online learning. The University continued to charge everyone a “Technology Fee” for equipment that never seems to work despite there being less people on campus to even use it, on top of the tuition increase. Dismissing out of hand the chance of an in-person Commencement is just one final example of St. John’s not putting its students first.

Yes, the COVID-19 numbers are not great right now, but not one of us can say what they will look like this May — we can’t even say what they’ll look like a month from now. We have all seen first-hand how quickly the pandemic can change. The University’s stance that a virtual Commencement is the only option is premature. I was certainly not in the room when this decision was made, but it appears as if St. John’s did not even open the floor for discussion.

Could an in-person Commencement take place by splitting up the graduating class into smaller groups over multiple days? Maybe — it has been done at other schools before. I cannot pretend to see into the future to guarantee it will work out, but after years of hard work to earn our degrees, the University should at least try to make it work. It may or may not be feasible in May, but not one of us has a crystal ball to look into the future and say it is not worth trying.

The message I got from the University’s decision was this: When faced with the task of figuring out how to make in-person Commencement work, St. John’s threw up its hands and gave up. The Class of 2021 is not worth the time, money or energy of even trying to make it work.

No one wants to see someone get sick from holding in-person commencement. As I write this, I myself have COVID-19 —  an illness I wouldn’t wish on anybody, especially not someone older or immunocompromised. And, if May comes around and it is truly not safe to graduate in person, I will proudly accept my diploma over Zoom. However, at this point it is too early to make that decision.

All the graduating class is asking for is a fair chance. We have all worked hard to get to this point, and we’re asking St. John’s to do the same. Let’s make this work and end the Class of 2021’s time at St. John’s University the right way.