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College announces virtual commencement plans and September ceremony for graduating class of 2020

On Tuesday, April 14, Beloit College President Scott Bierman sent an email on behalf of himself and the 2020 Senior Class Officers to the graduating class of 2020 that included a video outlining alternative plans for a commencement and graduation ceremony. The highly-anticipated announcement included confirmation that an in-person May 17 ceremony was indeed cancelled following the college’s move to online distance learning during the COVID-19 crisis. The email announced plans for a two-part ceremony that include a virtual ceremony on May 17 and an in-person commencement during New Student Days in early September. A follow-up email from the Commencement Implementation Team was sent to seniors on the following Tuesday on April 21 describing the virtual ceremony in more detail. 

News concerning commencement was highly anticipated by the student body following Beloit College’s transition to distance learning and the closure of campus as COVID-19 shuttered schools and non-essential businesses around the country and throughout the world. Bierman and Senior Class Officers Gabriel Gonzalez’20, Tobin Greenwald’20, Britney Johnson’20, YJ Na’20, and Mustafa Quadir’20 wrote in their announcement email that the planned in-person May 17 ceremony had to be cancelled as “there is simply not a realistic route that safely brings us physically together by this date.” They pledged to provide a memorable ceremony in “non-traditional ways,” which include the virtual ceremony and delayed in-person celebration. 

The virtual ceremony, as outlined in the follow-up email from the Commencement Implementation Team on April 21, will be available for viewing on Sunday, May 17 and will include a 10-second or shorter video submitted by each senior “celebrating” their accomplishments in their own “creative way.” Senior Class Officers also requested students identify “a faculty member, staff member, or fellow student who would be willing to submit a separate 5 – 10 second introductory clip” with an encouraging and positive message for that student. The Commencement Implementation Team includes Gonzalez, Na, Executive Administrative Assistant for the President’s Office Erica Daniels,  Project Manager of Communications and Marketing Shari Foley, Chief Information Officer and Library Director Pam McQuesten, and Registrar Mary Boros-Kazai. 

The physical, in-person celebration for the Class of 2020 is scheduled to take place during New Student Days, Beloit’s Freshman orientation week, during the first week of September according to the revised Fall 2020 academic calendar. In the video included in the announcement email, Bierman and the Senior Class Officers confirmed plans for the traditional senior week activities, including a Senior Gala, and the opening of dorm rooms on campus to provide seniors with a free place to stay during the commencement ceremony. 

Kaelyn Pineo’20 wrote to the Round Table on Saturday April 18, “I think under the circumstances, this is a good plan. I am a bit worried it might get cancelled, but I think that this is a time where we don’t know what is going to happen next week, so I’m trying not to worry about five months from now.” Pineo praised the Senior Class Officers, writing that they “did a really great job putting things together and trying to keep some sort of senior week,” but that “a virtual senior week is [not] personal enough to give the closure seniors need.” Despite this, Pineo said the plan “is a good idea, because many people may not be able to come back in September.” Pineo confirmed that she will attend the September event, and is excited to return “to get to see everyone again and have closure.” 

For many Beloit College seniors, the national emergency and subsequent economic fallout from the virus has upended post-graduation plans. During a time when most graduating seniors would be applying for jobs or grad school, more than 20 million Americans have filed for unemployment in a single month, essentially scrapping the past ten years of economic growth in the United States. While Congress has passed an unprecedented $2 trillion stimulus bill to provide relief for laid off workers, many college students are still listed as dependents on their parents and thus cannot receive aid. On April 19, Victor Tan Chen and Ofer Sharone wrote in The Atlantic that this economic recession will “leave deep financial and psychological scars for the workers and families trapped within it.”

Aside from the economic devastation seniors are graduating into, many students also faced abrupt departures from their home for the past four years without a chance to say goodbye to their closest friends and professors. Many students, like Pineo, do not live near their fellow Beloiters and thus cannot see one another until non-essential travel restrictions are lifted. 

Regarding her experience this semester, Pineo wrote, “I feel like it is really difficult having been at school, thinking about your future and what you will be doing. When you are about to graduate, your future feels very close, but now that there is no way to plan, it feels very far. In addition, I think some professors are very understanding about the situation, but others [are] not as understanding. That can make the semester difficult because we are living and working in a new and chaotic environment.”

Future follow-up emails from the 2020 Senior Class Officers and Bierman are expected as the September date approaches and the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve. 

Sources: The Atlantic

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