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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

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Class of 2020 responds to commencement decisions


Given the COVID-19 pandemic, the university announced in an email on March 31 that traditional commencement for the class of 2020 will not take place.

University President Mark C. Reed, Ed.D., and Cheryl McConnell Ph.D., provost and vice president for Academic Affairs announced in the email that there will instead be a virtual conferral of degrees ceremony which will take place on May 16. The email said they will also “honor the Class of 2020 on campus at a later date.”  

Members of the class of 2020 took to social media to express their frustration with the decision. 

“Saint Joe’s did not read the room,” Veronica Wilson ’20 wrote in the SJU Class of 2020 Facebook group.

“I honestly cried,” Christina DeAngelo ’20 said in response to a survey from The Hawk.  “While I understand the circumstances, the fact that they didn’t even ask us about our opinion is heartbreaking. The school puts so much emphasis on being a community but then makes a decision without the community.”

Members of the University Student Senate (USS) said in a public announcement April 1 that they advocated for a delayed in-person commencement during a University Council meeting held via Zoom on March 19. Senators present at the meeting said seniors were willing to push back the date in order to “properly honor the Class of 2020.” 

However, the USS statement said their “input was not considered” by the administration when they made the final call about commencement. USS said they were disheartened by this.

“When we are cut out of the conversation, student voices are silenced,” the statement said. 

Gail Benner, director of PR and media, said the university took student opinions into consideration and that the university took feedback from a survey sent out by USS. 

“The October event really did come from the feedback from the student senate and the students saying that they really wanted something on campus and on-ground,” Benner said. 

After the initial USS statement was released, Cary Anderson, Ed.D., associate provost and vice president of Student Life, and Sarah Quinn ’89, MBA ’09, St. Joe’s chief of staff and liaison to the board of trustees, told USS Vice President Julia McQuade ’20 in a meeting that there was miscommunication in the university announcement, according to McQuade. 

“They wanted to clarify that in the email it said something along the lines of a virtual commencement in May,” McQuade said following the meeting with Anderson and Quinn. “But it’s actually not a commencement, it’s a conferral of degrees that people would need to start grad school or certain jobs.”

Benner said the university is focusing on planning the virtual conferral of degrees first to give more time to determine details of what the October event might look like because the current pandemic situation is still evolving. 

Emily Rodrigues ’20 said seniors have had to navigate this reality of their commencement with the developing COVID-19 pandemic.

“With everything going on in the world, us not having graduation relative to everything just seems very minuscule,” Rodrigues said. “[But] undergraduate commencement is a once in a lifetime thing: it’s a mile marker, it is a big deal to us and that’s why we’re fighting for it.”

Rodrigues, a first generation college student, was looking forward to commencement for her parents. 

“That feeling isn’t just for myself,” Rodrigues said. “A lot of it was for [my parents] because they got me here. Without them, I wouldn’t be walking across that stage.” 

Caleb Kearney ’20 said the university’s decision to change commencement from a traditional format was likely a difficult decision. 

“This is such a crazy, unforseen thing for everyone including the administration,” Kearney said. “It’s impossible to satisfy everybody. But at the same time, they could’ve been a little more clear in that email.”

Francesca Lupini ’20 said it’s important to recognize that the uncertainty surrounding this pandemic impacts everyone.

“The administration, they’re people too,” Lupini said. “They’re human people trying to figure out this whole pandemic day-by-day just like the rest of us.”

Other university administrations have been grappling with providing commencement ceremonies for the class of 2020 along with navigating the global pandemic. Other universities, like Fordham University, have opted to postpone the event and proceed with an online conferral of degrees.

Fordham’s president, Joseph McShane, S.J., said in an email to the class of 2020 they are “planning a small live-stream ceremony for 16 May to commemorate the date that the degrees which you have rightfully earned are officially conferred.” McShane also communicated that there will be a live-streamed Baccalaureate Mass.

The details for the St. Joe’s virtual conferral of degrees and on-campus celebration are still being discussed. The email from Reed and McConnell specified, “the undergraduate, graduate and doctoral [virtual] ceremonies will be combined and start at 9 a.m,”  and students will be provided with a link to join the ceremony. More information will continue to be released regarding ceremony logistics.

Kearney hopes the university is able to create a plan to honor the class of 2020 in a special way. 

“I think there’s still a lot of time for them to make this right,” Kearney said. “I don’t think that’s too far gone.”

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