Graduation goes virtual due to COVID-19


Halie Barger, a graduating Miami senior and member of the Observer staff, seen here in front of Kreger Hall, was one of many students who donned graduation robes and posed for a final school picture on campus this week. Photo provided by Halie Barger

By Paige Scott

High school and college seniors are likely to be Zooming their best wishes to each other rather than marching in commencement exercises this spring as graduation ceremonies are added to the things disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Miami University has postponed its’ in-person graduation ceremony for 2020 graduates to September. The university will be holding a virtual graduation on Saturday, May 16, the date the ceremony was to be held.  

In an email sent out to graduating seniors, Miami President Gregory Crawford said the virtual graduation will be a “dynamic, immersive, event.” The event is designed to honor Miami’s 2020 graduates, and showcase their Miami Experience, Crawford said. It can be enjoyed by friends, family, and alumni at home and across the world.

“As a graduating student, you will be able to interact with each other and with faculty, during a mixed reality commencement ceremony accessible by computer, mobile device, or a VR headset.” Crawford wrote in the email.

The university will award 4,356 degrees during the virtual commencement. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who was to have been the commencement speaker at the original ceremony, will deliver his address online.

Participation can be done through Miami’s website. The live streamed event will begin at 7 p.m. but will open at 6:30 p.m., to give families time to handle technical issues and get settled. If some are unable to attend, the ceremony will be recorded as well.

Graduates can submit a shout-out to another graduate or to the entire Class of 2020 that will appear during the ceremony. Students can also visit Graduate Galleries, which will contain their submissions and those of their classmates. They will be able to chat with fellow graduates and faculty during the virtual commencement. Anyone can watch the ceremony live via Miami’s Facebook page or on their website.

Anyone is encouraged to submit a congratulatory message to a graduate or to the Class of 2020 that will also appear during the ceremony.

Diplomas will be mailed to Miami graduates in the weeks after the commencement date. Graduates were emailed and asked to make sure they have submitted their correct names and addresses.  

Josiah Collins, a graduating senior who went back home to California, when the on-campus instruction shut down in March, said this week he hasn’t ordered a cap and gown yet, but plans to. “I’m going to wait to order so I have it in time for the September ceremony,” he said.

Herff Jones, a company that sells caps and gowns, class rings and jewelry, and yearbooks nationwide, said it is still operating normally, although there may be a delay in service due to COVID-19. “We understand there is uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic,” Salena Scardina, vice president of customer experience at Herff Jones said in a statement. “We know students worked hard to achieve their academic goals- to experience those long-awaited milestones and traditions- and we believe this current situation should not define their educational journey.”

Binfang Ye, a computer science major graduating from Miami on Saturday, said that graduation is a time of farewells, and the lack of an in-person ceremony takes away from that. “It is the farewell to a period of our student life, which is a sign for some people to step into the society, and for some people to step into a higher level of the academic career. So, before the coronavirus, I was looking forward to the ceremony”.

In addition, to be an academic farewell, the graduation ceremony has another special meaning for Ye, “As an international student . . . this graduation ceremony is also a short farewell to three years of international friendship,” he said.

As for the changes and adjustments, Ye said at first, he felt very unhappy and regretful that the graduation ceremony could not be held normally. But he said he takes things as they come. Now that it has happened, he will accept it with equanimity.

Talawanda High School is also holding its graduation virtually Thursday, May 21. 

Graduating students were asked to submit  photos of themselves holding their diploma covers while dressed in their graduation caps and gowns, to be included in the ceremony. These can be submitted to [email protected].

The online ceremony will include music, student speakers, and a video created by students, according to an online note sent to all students by Tom York, principal of Talawanda High School. “All of us have events in our life that change the course of our lives and we think about life before the event and life as it is, after the event. For you, the Class of 2020, it is Covid 19, and as your life experience unfolds, there will be other events that will change your life for the positive and some not,” York told the students in the letter.

At the May 11 meeting of the Talawanda Board of Education, which also was conducted virtually, Board President Chris Otto said the decision to hold the virtual commencement “was the only responsible decision,” that could be made to ensure the safety of the students, staff  and community. “The pandemic has created a lot of uncertainty and disappointment, particularly for the graduating class of 2020,” he said.

It is a shame that the restrictions on face-to-face instruction and public gatherings have meant students missed out on many of the traditional and fun activities that traditionally mark the end of school, he said. But the class of 2020 “will be remembered for demonstrating their ability to persevere” in the face of the extraordinary circumstances caused by the virus.”