Disappointment as SPU announces online graduation ceremony

SPU decides COVID-19 regulations are still too restrictive for an in-person ceremony

Mary Bruggeman, Staff Writer

A bear adorned with graduation attire is symbolic of the senior’s upcoming graduation, although the teddy is missing a mask. The ceremony will be held virtually. (Sydney Lorton)

Senior linguistics major Anna Tun Naing finished her class and opened her email to find the announcement she had anticipated with sadness.

“After careful and thoughtful discussions — and to give our graduating students and their families as much notice as possible — we have made the difficult decision to move to a remote format for this spring’s Undergraduate Commencement and Graduate Commencement,” stated the email sent by former President Dan Martin to this year’s SPU graduates on February 24.

This year, graduation will be conducted in an online format due to COVID-19.

Tun Naing said that she was looking forward to celebrating graduation with her classmates in person.

“I know it’ll just become another day once it’s over, but if we had an in-person ceremony, I think it truly would have been significant,” said Tun Naing.

Another senior, Emma Brenchley, a visual communication design major, feels that without an in-person graduation ceremony, she will not have proper closure to her time at SPU.

“Nothing about this year feels ‘senior’ to me, and without an in-person ceremony it feels very anticlimactic,” she said. “I’m feeling stressed about jobs and the real world, but it feels there’s no real closing door to this chapter. You only get to graduate from your undergrad once, so it definitely feels like that’s getting taken away.”

A second email was sent out two days later saying that each graduate will have a personalized slide and their name will be read aloud. Graduates who register for the virtual ceremony by April 15 will also receive a commemorative box containing items such as their graduation cap, a tassel, and diploma cover.

Heidi Speck, a senior journalism and art major, said after receiving the announcement, she realized how much she is going to miss being a part of an in-person ceremony.

“I was still like ‘oh I won’t ever get to walk down a big aisle with my peers and have people see me and then all the memorabilia.’ Sometimes when I think about it really hard, I’m like ‘wow this is really disappointing’.”

Despite disappointment, the soon to be graduates understand the school’s decision and hope to make the most of it.

Tun Naing recognized that even though more spaces are now open, there are still many restrictions and valid concerns people have about the spread of COVID-19.

“It wouldn’t be right to compromise anyone’s safety or comfort, so I think having a virtual ceremony can eliminate a lot of potential risks. We can also invite more family and friends from around the world who would have otherwise not been able to attend,” she said.

Seattle Pacific University’s current seniors will be experiencing graduation virtually this Spring. (Sydney Lorton)

Honors Liberal Arts and Business Administration major K’reisa Cox understands the restrictions and thinking behind it, but said she wished SPU was looking into having some aspects of the ceremony in-person.

“It would’ve been cool if they were exploring options for us to do it in smaller groups,” Cox said. “But I haven’t heard anything. You could have the ceremony in your departments or we could break you up into smaller groups or have some kind of recognition. But there hasn’t been any communication at least that I’m aware of. It’s possible that it’s coming.”

According to Executive Assistant to the Provost, Maliea Lowe-Hale, the COVID-19 Decision Group was looking at the possibility of an in-person graduation for a long time.

“In October, my team [the COVID-19 Decision Group] began developing contingency plans for all stages of a state reopening. We stayed in contact with stadiums, concert halls, and large arenas across the city, hoping that something in-person would be possible,” said Lowe-Hale.

Lowe-Hale said that the limitations even on the large spaces were too great even with Governor Inslee’s new guidelines for graduations, allowing up to 50% capacity.

The limited availability of vaccines and travel restrictions were some of the primary issues the team faced.

“We could not guarantee that any of our attending faculty or staff volunteers would be vaccinated, let alone our students or their families. Guests were another factor, as graduates would be limited to no more than two, or possibly none, and families coming from outside of the Seattle area would face possible quarantines or travel restrictions,” said Lowe-Hale.

Both the University of Washington and Seattle University have also decided to have virtual graduation ceremonies.

“I’m going to go to law school in the fall, so I feel like I’m going to be doing this again in three years,” Cox said. “It’s obviously sad for me, but my heart really goes out to other of my classmates for whom it feels more of a culmination.”