DePaul plans virtual commencement for Class of 2020


Allstate Arena will be one of two sites to host commencement ceremonies on Sunday. Many undergraduates receiving their diplomas will face the question of whether to go to graduate school and when. (Photo courtesy of Angie Linder)

On March 27, DePaul announced it would cancel traditional in-person commencement ceremonies in favor of a “series of virtual ceremonies” to be held June 13. 

DePaul’s leadership team in consultation with the Office of Academic Events made the decision to go virtual, and was “informed by federal, state and local guidance on the COVID-19 situation and university’s commitment to keeping students, faculty, staff and families safe,” according to Victoria Simek, associate director in Academic Events. 

This decision has faced heavy criticism from students, and a petition to postpone DePaul’s commencement until an in-person ceremony can be held has garnered more than 9,000 signatures. 

While Simek said that the university was “still considering an in-person celebration of the Class of 2020,” there are no other details about a future event that can be disclosed at this time. 

“The hope is that the ceremony, if possible, will have all of the pomp, circumstance, personalism and tradition that is typical of a DePaul University commencement,” she said.

Simek also wanted to clarify for any students confused about what attending the virtual ceremony would mean for any future plans. 

“Participating in the online ceremony does not preclude students from also attending an in-person ceremony in the future,” Simek said. “Academic Events will make sure that students have everything they need to participate at a later date.”

Jacqueline Brennan, a DePaul senior, expressed her disappointment about the virtual commencement, but still remained optimistic at the prospect of a future in-person ceremony. 

“I’m extremely upset that our ceremony has been moved to a virtual setting because I worked very hard to make it to this point and I don’t want to wait a whole year to ‘graduate’” Brennan said. “I was looking forward to being the only child to walk across the stage in my family. Hopefully, they were truthful and plan to honor us in person one day.”

While in-person commencements have been filmed and webcasted before, DePaul has never conducted a fully virtual ceremony.

The ceremony will have “as much pomp and circumstance as possible in a virtual setting,” Interim Provost Salma Ghanem said at a town hall May 21. The national anthem will be sung, music will be performed and speeches will be delivered.

The class of 2020 has been instructed to “keep an eye on their mailboxes in early June” for “special kits” to help them prepare for the virtual event. These commencement kits will include diploma covers and gifts from Alumni Relations to “help students prepare for commencement,” Simek said. 

The online commencement ceremonies will be available through links on the commencement website and hosted on DePaul’s YouTube channel. More instructions for watching the ceremonies will be released closer to June 13. Ceremonies will be pre-recorded and use YouTube’s Premieres feature, which enables students to watch their respective college’s ceremonies all at the same time. 

Each ceremony will have several presenters filming from home. President Esteban, Provost Ghanem, and Rev. Guillermo Campuzano, C.M, are filming separately on stage at the Theater School. 

“Strict social distancing and safety protocols are in place to ensure the health of both the leadership and the small film crew,” Simek said. 

The virtual event, Simek says, aims to ensure celebration of the Class of 2020 in an appropriate time frame, despite the current circumstances. 

“The university felt it important to celebrate the Class of 2020 now, in real time, as they reach the end of this journey,” she said. “Earning a degree is a milestone in life and it is important for us to come together as a DePaul community to honor this accomplishment.”

When asked what she would say to graduating seniors in these uncertain times, Simek offered some needed words of encouragement. 

“These are extraordinary times, but DePaul graduates are extraordinary people,” she said. “Your time at DePaul has prepared you to face uncertainty and to put your education, talents and compassion to work in the world.”

Additional reporting by Ella Lee