Virtual Commencement: The Dangers of an In-Person Ceremony

Screenshot from petition, set up by several seniors at Champlain College.

Champlain College is doing a virtual graduation ceremony for the Class of 2021.

I’m ecstatic about it. I don’t have to worry about getting sick with COVID. I don’t have to worry about possibly getting other people sick. I don’t even have to worry about buying a gown; I could just get my diploma and leave.

However, some people don’t think that way.

There’s currently a petition going around asking for an in-person graduation.

“[Students of the Class of 2021] are creating this petition in response to being informed that a virtual commencement ceremony will be held for the Champlain College graduating class of 2021. Members of the graduating class reacted to this email with disappointment and disdain for Champlain’s actions and effort to provide a memorable, safe ceremony.” 

A virtual ceremony is an action and effort to provide a memorable, safe ceremony. Champlain could have decided not to have a ceremony at all. They have every right to not have one at all as Vermont’s COVID cases, despite being low, are still rising. I don’t think the people who wrote this petition realize how dangerous an in-person graduation really would be.

“Champlain’s COVID cases have been some of the lowest of higher education institutions across the country; there have only been 16 positive cases, 12 of those being within the student body, since campus reopened on August 17th, 2020,” says the petition on google docs.

We have some of the lowest COVID cases within higher education, and it’s because of the rigorous testing that’s also mentioned in this letter. Are we going to test everyone who comes to Vermont for this in-person graduation ceremony they’re suggesting? There are also false negatives and false positives with these COVID tests. It’s not 100 percent, which is why we have weekly testing.

The problem is not that Vermont has COVID cases. The problem is that the virus keeps changing and mutating. At the time of writing this article, people are being asked to wear two masks to protect themselves from COVID mutations.

The petition asks “[Champlain College] to consider offering an in-person ceremony of some caliber for those students who are in the on-campus COVID-19 testing pool and are taking classes on-campus.”

How do you suggest Champlain do this? Offering solutions on how to fix the issue is much more helpful. For example: have a graduation ceremony later when COVID is finally under control. “One Vermont institution, Middlebury College, has announced its plans to hold an in-person commencement ceremony for those students on-campus, paired with a virtual ceremony for students who are learning off-campus.” Champlain shouldn’t have a ceremony just because other colleges are having it. It would be a smarter idea to have a graduation ceremony after things go back to ‘normal’. 

These past months have been quite frustrating, but this has been an unprecedented event. Of course, not everything is going to go exactly like we’d want. In my opinion, having the dorms open was a mistake. The fact that we had 16 cases on Champlain is very upsetting and could’ve been avoided. There are people who have been breaking the rules by inviting people outside of their households over. Vermont is one of the lowest COVID states for a reason and we shouldn’t ruin that with an in-person graduation.

After four years at Champlain, I’ve learned that we are a selfish student body. We are completely willing to risk other people’s health for a more “traditional” experience when this past year has been anything but. The fact that some people want an in-person graduation despite how bad COVID is proves that they do not care about anyone else but themselves, which is absolutely abhorrent.