DePaul cancels commencement, petition surfaces to postpone ceremony instead

Traditional in-person graduation ceremonies will not be held this May or June, DePaul announced Friday in an email. Instead, the university is planning a “series of virtual ceremonies.”

The decision was made because of the uncertainty over when COVID-19’s widespread social disruption will end. 

“Our intent is to create the best commencement experience possible to recognize and celebrate our graduates,” President A. Gabriel Esteban said in the email. “We have a team in place working on how we will reimagine this milestone in new and safe ways.”

Fefe Jaber, a DePaul senior, started a petition Friday morning to postpone graduation to July or August. It already has over a thousand signatures — and the number is still rising rapidly. 

“I started this petition in honor of all 2020 graduating students,” Jaber said. “A student like myself, who has sacrificed a lot to be at a school like DePaul, a student [who] is the first person in her family to attend college, deserves to walk the stage.”

Signers of the petition — many of whom are first-generation college students — expressed frustration and heartbreak toward the university for its decision to cancel instead of postpone.

“I am the first in my family to graduate,” Brandy Valdes wrote on the petition. “This isn’t just a celebration or walking across the stage, it’s much more than that. This also isn’t just for me, it’s for my family. Who have sacrificed so much for this day. It’s for the little ones like me, with dreams of accomplishing what many don’t believe they can. It’s about breaking a statistic that has been held over a lot of first generation immigrant families who work hard for something better in life. Please postpone.” 

Others pointed toward the hardships they faced to achieve a college degree. 

“I didn’t beat cancer to not walk at graduation,” Lexi Stevens wrote on the petition. 

“I am a single mom who worked hard for this,” Pamola Mendoza wrote on the petition. “I was a teen mom who didn’t think high school or college was for me, but I went through hell and a lot of student debt to be able to finish.”

There is no consensus among colleges across the country over how to handle commencement amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Some schools, like Yale University and Carnegie Mellon University, have cancelled ceremonies, while others, like University of Texas and University of Wisconsin-Madison, have chosen to postpone. 

“To DePaul’s administration, I strongly urge you to reconsider,” Jaber said. “As a school who prides itself on the Vincentian mission, it would only be right to have an in person celebration for students, families, and faculty. This is a milestone for your students. These students come from all over the US. These students come from immigrant families, who have worked incredibly hard to make sure their children can afford an education at a school like DePaul. 

“I urge you to ask yourselves, what must be done?” she continued. “[…] What must be done is DePaul must take action into postponing the commencement ceremony at a later date. A virtual graduation is simply not enough and not acceptable. These students will one day, run the world. Give them the celebration they deserve.”