Virtual graduation: The future of celebration

As graduation season is quickly approaching once again, many high schools and universities are faced with deciding between virtual or in-person ceremonies. 

As states begin to lift mask mandates, as reported by The New York Times, educators are making the decision to continue holding virtual graduations. Being forced to host these remote ceremonies is not ideal, and many students will be saddened by the loss of their special celebrations. However, due to public health risks presented by the pandemic, this precaution is necessary for many schools. 

Virtual graduation is a hard decision, but it may have an upside.

The old cliche of looking for silver linings in bad situations is a cliche for a reason. Amidst the hard changes everyone has been forced to make in the past year, there have been a few upsides along with the downsides. The turmoil of the pandemic has created a path for more hospitable celebrations in the future.

The need to adapt in-person ceremonies for pandemic restrictions has created the opportunity for graduations to be more accessible in the future. This alternative allows family members who cannot travel, or people with bigger families, to participate in the special day. 

Last year, many schools hoped they would be able to host an in-person graduation of some kind. However, as the end of the semester drew closer, they were forced to come up with safer options. This year, it seems schools are in a similar position. Unlike last year, however, they now know how to handle completely virtual ceremonies.

An email update from NAU President Rita Cheng on March 5 announced the university would be hosting a fully virtual commencement ceremony for a second consecutive year. The commencement information page informs students and guests that graduation will be a recorded event featuring the usual speeches, in addition to a personalized slide for every graduate who submits one.

The page also lets everyone know that while administrators hope families and guests will view the event on graduation day, April 30, the recorded event will be available through the winter 2021 semester. This prolonged time allows for an extended celebration for students and their loved ones.

Pre-pandemic, commencement ceremonies were usually limited to graduates and their immediate families. 

In the case of high school graduation events, typically the graduate would receive a small number of tickets for free, and anyone else who wished to attend had to purchase additional seating. 

Family from across the country may have struggled to afford the expense of traveling. Thus, distance may have prevented graduates from sharing the day with all of their loved ones.

Now that schools have an understanding of how to best stream and record ceremonies, the celebration can be shared with more people.

As reported by Forbes, many schools across the country are facing the dilemma of whether or not to attempt some semblance of a normal graduation ceremony.

While some have decided to try in-person ceremonies with social distancing precautions, others have relocated to outdoor venues. Some schools have opted to only allow graduates to attend these face-to-face commencements. Meanwhile, schools such as Stanford University and the University of Michigan have elected for  fully remote graduations.

Each option allows students to have, at varying degrees, some kind of graduation experience, even if it looks different than what they had envisioned.

As a result of the pandemic, plans changed and life was reimagined. The virtual graduation ceremonies certainly were not what seniors had anticipated as the long-awaited end of their college careers.

Virtual graduations are in no way perfect solutions; students deserve the grandeur and recognition that comes with accomplishing such a feat as graduating from high school or college. That is not to say, however, that overcoming the previous year’s obstacles has reaped no benefits. 

Now that schools are better equipped to accommodate virtual graduations, they have opened up to the idea of using this medium going forward to make commencement a more accessible experience for both the graduates and guests, as life begins to return to normal.

Graduates of both 2020 and 2021 deserve the right to be upset about their loss of traditional ceremonies, and their sadness over virtual commencements should not be forgotten. 

After years of hard work and late nights studying, these students were denied graduation ceremonies and their ability to celebrate all of their accomplishments in-person. However, these same, unfortunate circumstances have made COVID-era commencements accessible to potential attendees who would not normally be able to commute to traditional graduations.