As the reality of graduating from college arrives, many seniors are choosing to delay or change their graduation celebrations as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
To enforce social distancing, colleges and universities across the country are canceling or rescheduling in-person graduations. OU Graduation Services announced the original in-person graduation on May 8 will be replaced with a virtual graduation — a live, online ceremony where graduates' names will be announced and their faces and degrees will appear on screen, according to its website. OU will also host an in-person graduation on August 8 and 9, according to its website.
Emily O'Brien, a journalism senior, said she plans to attend the in-person graduation and have a graduation party with friends and family when it is safe to host an in-person social gathering.
Staying positive and understanding the seriousness of the pandemic and the unpredictable nature of these events are important to remember, O’Brien said.
“It’s valid to feel disappointed or let down, but we have to keep it in perspective,” O’Brien said. “This is a small time of our lives and our family and friends will still be proud of us whether we walk across the stage or have a small gathering.”
For some students with loved ones out-of-state, video chat possibilities like Zoom and Skype are helping bring celebrations to friends and family far away. The possibility of having a long-distance graduation party is a new reality for many graduating seniors.
Miranda Myers, communications senior, said she plans to host a Zoom graduation party with friends and family members, which will allow her large, dispersed family to celebrate together. She also plans on attending the postponed in-person graduation.
Myers said she is considering driving to Lloyd Noble Center on May 8, when her graduation would have happened, with friends and family from Oklahoma, dressing up in her cap and gown and taking photos. This event will allow Myers to experience the in-person ceremony she wanted on the day of her graduation, she said.
OU is not the only university dealing with canceled or postponed graduation ceremonies. More than 4,000 higher education institutions in the U.S. are affected by coronavirus, according to Campus Technology. Universities such as Harvard, New York University and Ohio’s Kent State University are planning virtual ceremonies with in-person graduation placed at later dates.
At the University of Pennsylvania, a student inspired by a Minecraft graduation for elementary students in Japan decided to create his university on Minecraft and hold a virtual graduation within the game system, according to The Verge.
Some corporations are joining in on the online festivities, including Natural Light, a beer company owned by Anheuser-Busch, which will host a Facebook Live graduation ceremony for the class of 2020.
Myers said she is excited for the in-person graduation but worries it may be canceled or further postponed due to the public not following social distancing rules. The formal in-person graduation ceremony in August is a great way to celebrate her accomplishments, she said.
Brian Seelig, an aviation senior, plans to have a joint graduation party at his home with his brother and sister who are finishing high school in Houston. Seelig said he is not bothered by the lack of a ceremony — for him, receiving his degree is enough.
“We are all here for that piece of paper and the rest is just for fun,” Seelig said. O’Brien said she hopes to work for a TV news outlet and is currently applying for jobs in news production.
After college, Myers planned to work for Walt Disney World’s Disney College Program in Florida — a five to seven month program where current or recently graduated college students work at Disney parks and resorts. Unfortunately, Myers' program was canceled due to the pandemic. While Myers does not have any concrete plans for her next steps, she said she is remaining optimistic about her future.
Despite the change in plans, graduating college is no small feat and graduates came to college to receive a diploma, not a graduation party, Seelig said.
The lack of an official ceremony is disappointing, but it is important to remember the excitement of graduating, Myers said.
“We have to take it in stride and realize that us graduating is still a big deal even if we didn’t get the proper graduation that we wanted,” Myers said.