OPINION: DePaul jumped the gun with virtual commencement



FILE- In this May 5, 2018, file photo, students attend the University of Toledo commencement ceremony in Toledo, Ohio. Colleges across the U.S. have begun cancelling and curtailing spring graduation events amid fears that the new coronavirus will not have subsided before the stretch of April and May when schools typically invite thousands of visitors to campus to honor graduating seniors.

Every college student looks forward to graduation day. Walking across a stage in front of your peers and family as you get applauded for all of your hard work for  the past four years. The memorabilia; wearing the cap and gowns, taking pictures on campus and celebrating the accomplishment with family and friends.

Last Spring, the Class of 2020 did not have that opportunity due to the pandemic. This year, despite lockdowns and restrictions lifting, neither will the Class of 2021. 

Colby Marchio graduated from DePaul last year amid the pandemic. Marchio said that he was not surprised with the decision then, as it was during a point in the pandemic when almost everything was on lockdown or had restrictions. 

“My initial reaction was, ehh that sucks but there really isn’t much I can do about it. The only thing I will say is that if I’m paying for a graduation, I should get one,” he said.

The cost to attend a university, DePaul’s tuition being over $40,000, factors in many aspects, and though it may not seem like it, graduation comes at a price. Students who wish to purchase a cap and gown are expected to pay full price, even though they will not be getting the full graduation experience. A petition was written to try and convince the school to give out caps and gowns for free, but the university does not plan to offer regalia free of charge, despite student concerns. 

Jocelyn Trausch commented, “We shouldn’t have to pay for this if we don’t even get to enjoy [the] significance of this milestone!” 

“The commencement for the Class of 2021 will not only honor our existing DePaul traditions, but also incorporate new elements in the online ceremonies,” said Victoria Simek, the director of academic events at DePaul. “We are finding new and meaningful ways to showcase students’ voices and stories in all that we do this year. The Class of 2021 deserves to be celebrated for all their accomplishments and our community will do this through a combination of online ceremonies and on-campus activities.” 

However, no specifics were given about how or what would be done. According to DePaul’s commencement page, “each graduate will have the opportunity to personalize a commencement slide for their ceremony.”  

Many seniors are disappointed at the loss of an in-person graduation ceremony. 

“I wish DePaul could use our resources like the soccer [Wish] field in the Lincoln Park campus to have an outdoor in-person graduation for students,” said senior Stephanie Suaso.

Senior Arris Panos took some time off from school during the pandemic and will be graduating in the fall, with hopes that he will get the in-person graduation experience every student desires. 

“I’m hoping I can walk across the stage come the fall,” Panos said.“I guess they just want to take precautions but I honestly don’t know why they still have graduation virtual.” 

It does not make much sense for restaurants and bars in Chicago to begin to lift restrictions in regard to indoor capacity, while in-person graduation is still deemed too large a risk.

I am not advising an indoor commencement, though there are places such as Wintrust Arena that would be large enough to hold each ceremony safely. There are quite a few venues in the Chicago area that would be perfect for a graduation ceremony to take place outdoors, although it is not even being considered. 

DePaul University has many options like Wish Field, the Quad, or even Wrigley Field, home to the Chicago Cubs. Though the last option would be more expensive for the university, it would be a grand location to show the Class of 2021, and the entire student body that they mean more to the university than the money they pay to attend, and that our struggles this year have not gone unnoticed. 

DePaul has also announced that each college will have its own ceremony, so that would make it even easier to put together a last minute in-person commencement, as it is already scheduled to be separately done by college. 

Other universities across the country of similar size are planning to hold outdoor in-person graduations such as Cleveland State University, and even significantly larger schools like the University of Illinois, Michigan State University and San Diego State University. It is also important to note that these schools will be having their commencements much earlier than DePaul will, meaning more people in the DePaul community will be vaccinated and cases will likely have dropped even more. 

Most colleges have graduations in May, however, DePaul’s graduation is in June. DePaul’s graduation, in June, allows for time to figure out a plan, especially with potentially nicer weather for outdoor events.  President Biden has even announced that things should be getting closer to normal by July 4, not too far after DePaul’s scheduled graduation. 

DePaul could easily watch how in-person graduation is being planned at other universities and try to do the same for its student body. Restricting the allowed family to two or even none, enforcing testing or vaccinations and breaking commencent up by college, which is already the plan, would make graduating in-person a safe option. Especially if the university is planning on having in-person and on-campus activities to celebrate. 

“DePaul is working with the city to plan on-campus activities that are outdoors, have a limited number of attendees at one time to meet the city’s guidelines and abide by all the city’s and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s safety protocols such as social distancing and mask wearing,” Simek said. “The on-campus activities will be an opportunity for students to connect with campus and the university in safe yet exciting and celebratory ways. We are excited to share these plans with our community and hope to do so in the next few weeks.” 

However, she did not address why in-person could not be considered as well.

This may seem like it is a fair trade for the university not allowing for an in-person graduation, until you dissect exactly what Simek said. If the activities are being restricted to CDC guidelines, then according to the City of Chicago, no more than 50 students will be able to attend each activity at one time. If there are approximately more than 6,000 students graduating this spring, and the university were to hold 10 on campus activities, not even a quarter of the graduating class would get to attend these celebrations. Yet, every single student has had to pay the same tuition and endure an entire year, plus some of online education. It truly does not make up for the trouble. 

As a senior myself, I know many who do not live in Chicago that will be graduating in DePaul’s Class of 2021. If students do not live in the area, they are much less likely to attend these activities, meaning that even less students will be able to attend these in-person “celebratory events.” If the university truly wants to celebrate its students they will give us an opportunity to have an in-person graduation. They could even allow students who are more at-risk or not vaccinated the option to attend the ceremony virtually. DePaul is not a cheap school to attend, so the fact that the senior class had to experience their entire last year of undergraduate school online without any sort of compensation is unacceptable. DePaul needs to do more to show their student’s how much they mean to the university.

As of right now, spring commencement is scheduled for June 12, and will be streaming on YouTube and the DePaul commencement website.