NVU will be holding graduation virtually this spring as a result of the pandemic. The announcement was made on Feb. 25 in an email to students from President Elaine Collins.
“At the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, we once again must make decisions about important university events that are milestones in students’ lives,” Collins said.
In the email, which was addressed to graduating students, Collins outlined the reasoning behind the decision. The obvious primary concern is that, despite vaccination progress across the state and country, large public gatherings will still be unsafe in May due to COVID-19.
The announcement prompted Luna Crowley, a senior in Johnson’s holistic health major, to start a petition on Change.org advocating for an in-person graduation. As of March 11, the petition had gathered over 550 signatures. There are roughly 200 graduating students across both of NVU’s campuses.
Jake DeCarlo, a creative writing senior at NVU-J, said he was unsurprised by President Collin’s announcement. “There’s a pandemic going on,” he said. “What else did we expect?”
DeCarlo added that he felt the petition was selfish and did not take seriously the risk of potential infections as a result of such a large gathering. “Why would or should the school sponsor a super spreader event?” he said.
President Collins has not indicated any change of plans as a result of the petition, instead reiterating her stance. “I am committed to honoring each of our graduates in as personal a way as possible,” Collins said, “balancing the restrictions that are in place with the goal to celebrate all of our NVU graduates, whether they are studying on campus or off.”
Crowley said she started the petition because of input from other seniors. “They felt like the school hadn’t put in a full amount of effort to try to find other avenues,” she said. She also cited her own disappointment and the empowerment of making voices heard as motivation.
“You look forward to that moment of glory, of walking across the stage and saying, ‘I did this,’” Crowley said. Not all students share Crowley’s passion for the traditional commencement ceremonies, however.
“Even before the pandemic, graduation was more about the paper than the fanfare for me,” DeCarlo said. DeCarlo has been studying remotely for most of his senior year, and said if there were in-person celebrations, he wouldn’t attend.
“I’ve had severe asthma my whole life, so of all ways for a virus to attack the body, this one is horrifying for me,” he said, adding that he’d “rather not have to wear a hazmat suit and bathe in hand sanitizer to walk across a stage.”
Crowley, who has 2 pre-existing risk factors herself, suggests that students be able to choose whether or not to attend an in-person event, and adds that virtual events could still be held for those who choose not to attend.
President Collins, however, believes that “the most equitable and safe solution is to hold one virtual commencement ceremony for each campus.”
DeCarlo said he doubted an in-person graduation would be safely conducted. “I would love to trust everyone to really band together… but realistically, my trust would be misplaced.”
Crowley is more optimistic about potential distancing practices. “I am all for the safety of our staff… students and all in the community,” she said, adding that she believes NVU’s campuses have enough outdoor space to safely gather.
When asked about what such an event might look like, Crowley said, “I personally haven’t thought about that,” but added that “there are a lot of people in our student body that are creative thinkers.”
Collins is not as interested in risk taking. “Setting aside the potentially significant travel and lodging costs for students studying remotely,” Collins said in her initial email, “these students are also not participating in our on-campus health and safety protocols.”
Collins also noted that the marketing team will be working with “faculty, staff, and students… to make these celebrations as creative, inspiring, and personal as can be.”
“The pandemic has made it difficult for people across the world to celebrate many milestones in their lives,” Collins said. She said the disappointment of students is known to her, but that safety has to take precedence.
DeCarlo agreed that limiting potential spread of COVID-19 was more important than in-person commencement. “This whole petition just screams entitlement to me,” he said. “They don’t get to break the rules just because it’s a ‘special’ day. Buy some confetti and deal with it.”