Graduation pictures add significance to online commencement, caps and gowns delayed


Joe Addison

Business school alum Hannah Judson took graduation photos with her cat for a more lighthearted feel.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, DePaul University was forced to transition to online learning for the entire Spring quarter and graduation for the class of 2020 was moved online.

It is normal to scroll through an Instagram feed during this time of the year and see college students celebrating graduation. Late May and early June almost always come with students on the quad and around campus with photographers, friendsfriend or professionals, the camera clicking away.

Graduation photos help celebrate a pivotal moment in one’s life, according to some students. Along with that, many students’ graduation photos are important for their families, especially if they are first-generation college graduates. 

“I am the eldest child and first to graduate from college in America, so I am certain this means a lot to my parents,” said Carlos Rodriguez, a 2020 DePaul alumni. 

Genera Fields, who majored in psychology, said her status as a first-generation college student also made graduation and graduation pictures highly sentimental for her family. 

It is the ‘I did it you can too’ for my younger siblings,” she said. “No one in my family has ever done the college thing. Many criticized the decision. It is my moment to say ‘I did it. You can too. Break the chain.’”

For other students, graduation is also commemorative of the years of hard work put into getting a degree. Sarah Peterson, a recent alumna of the College of Communication, said that the pictures have added significance this year.

Sarah Peterson, photographed on DePaul’s Lincoln Park campus. (Courtesy of Sarah Peterson)

“Especially during this time since we don’t get an in-person ceremony it will be nice to at least have some photos of me on campus in a cap and gown to commemorate this moment,” she said. “For me, I am not going into grad school, so right now this is the last bit of school I am finishing and I wanted to be able to have commemorative photos of this before heading into the ‘real world’ as people would say.”

Peterson took her graduation photos in Chicago by campus and outside Wrigley Field. She used her roommate’s cap and gown since her order from DePaul had not arrived yet. 

Hannah Judson, a recent alumna of the business school, said that since she is from Seattle and not around here, her graduation photos help her share her experiences with her family. Instead of buying a cap and gown, however, she decided to improvise.

“I did not buy a cap and gown because I think it is stupid to spend money on something I won’t even get to wear to an in-person commencement,” Judson said. “I wore a bathrobe for my gown, and taped a lanyard to a cardboard square to a backward baseball hat to function as my cap. I also recently adopted a cat, and he’s my baby, so of course, I hauled him downtown to be in the photos.”

Judson said that the lighthearted photos were helpful during a stressful time for her family. 

“My mom is an essential worker, working in a hospital in Seattle, so my whole family is pretty stressed on the regular,” she said. “I wanted to take some fun graduation pictures for them, something that we could laugh at, and something that later would remind us of the impact that COVID had on all of us.”

Another issue a lot of students have brought up is that without an in-person commencement, the amount of money that goes into cap and gown may not be worth it. Some students have improvised with less expensive alternatives.

Fields said due to the COVID-19 pandemic she decided to just save money and buy a cap and gown online rather than spend more for the DePaul specific cap and gown. 

“I did not order one from DePaul because I don’t have $80 to spend in pandemic,” Fields said. “They really should have sent it for free – they are saving money by not having commencement and they really screwed us all over.”

While some of the students who ordered their cap and gown from DePaul via Herff Jones had no trouble getting their orders, others have had issues with the amount of communication coming from Herff Jones. 

Peterson said that she ordered her cap and gown on February 4, but still has not received them. 

“At the end of April/beginning of May, I still hadn’t received my order but people who ordered after me had received their items and I saw this through the class of 2020 Facebook page,” she said.

Peterson was able to get in contact with Herff Jones over the phone and through Twitter, and she was sent a shipping confirmation. However, the package contained only a cap without the gown, stole or tassel. 

“I then contacted them again and complained about only receiving part of my order, and they said they would get everything else out to me and were genuinely shocked that happened,” she said. 

Peterson received another shipment on June 2 with the entire shipment.

“Honestly, it has been a real hassle getting all the materials and I hope that all graduates receive everything by June 13 and if they do not I think they should receive a refund,” she said. “It is a really big milestone in one’s life and it sucks that we have to go through all this.”

Teagan Capek, a recent alumna of the College of Computing and Digital Media, also had similar issues to Peterson except instead of ordering the cap and gown, Capek decided to cancel the order since there would be no in-person commencement. 

However, not only did Capek find the process to cancel difficult, she also took issue with the lack of communication from Herff Jones. After two months of waiting, Capek still had not received a refund, so she tried to get in contact with Herff Jones.

“I was waiting on hold for over two hours and no one picked up the phone,” she said. 

The second time she called she was on hold for another 30 minutes —except this time customer service gave her the option to leave her name and number for a call back. 

“They said to me ‘well we are having a big delay with all the orders and refunds so it will be about six to eight weeks,’” she said. “I have not worked large scale retail as far as serving mass amounts of colleges and high schools, but I have worked retail. Processing a refund does not take that much time.” 

DePaul University released this statement from Herff Jones. 

“Herff Jones is working to fulfill regalia orders within 28 days,” the statement read. “However, due to COVID 19, the company is experiencing periodic shutdowns and delays in manufacturing and shipping regalia. Please be aware that it may take up to 60 days or longer to receive your order. Orders are not guaranteed to arrive by June 13.”

Katherine Holmes, a senior who minored in photography and has done freelance photography during her time at DePaul, said this year has been different in terms of the procedure for taking pictures. 

“I have kept my mask with me, but since we have been outside the whole time and the subjects are not wearing masks for photos, it kind of defeats the purpose,” she said. “We have just tried to stand in a way where I do not get too close while photographing.” 

Taking photos in multiple locations is also an issue this year for Holmes both due to the coronavirus and the protests that have been going on over the past few weeks.

“Some clients have wanted to go downtown for their sessions, so I have been asking them to be flexible due to everything going on,” she said. “I do not want to do a sessions while (a protest) is going on, I feel it would be highly insensitive.” 

Holmes said in the past, many of her clients would start out on campus before moving downtown or to the lake which has been more of a challenge during the pandemic. The number of students on Holmes’ client list has also increased this year. In a normal year, she said that the number would usually be around five sessions of graduation pictures however this time around she has done 12 so far with eight more sessions to go. 

Even though graduation is canceled and some students have had trouble acquiring caps and gowns, students still have reason to celebrate and make the experience a positive one. 

“These photos are important to me because they’re ways of showing my family and my community how COVID has impacted my life, but also a way to hopefully bring some smiles, even if for a brief moment,” Judson said.