Although a Commencement Ceremony is unlikely to occur this Spring students should have been given input on the College’s decision to cancel the ceremony, not notified of a decision through an email.
By Victoria Vidales
On January 28th the Office of the Registrar sent an email to all Saint Mary’s students notifying them that the 2021 Commencement Ceremony had been canceled. Undergraduate and Graduate students for Saint Mary’s classes of 2020 and 2021 will not be given a traditional graduation ceremony, instead, be divided amongst a weekend for a drive thru ceremony. Although a Commencement Ceremony is unlikely to occur this Spring students should have been given input on the College’s decision to cancel the ceremony, not notified of a decision through an email.
To be clear, I am not advocating for holding a standard commencement ceremony in the Spring if our country remains in the same situation that we are in now. The joy of a commencement ceremony is not worth the health risks of my fellow graduates, our loved ones, and the thousands of people we will run into contact with after the celebration. I am being critical of Saint Mary’s administration’s approach to handling this situation, which seems to not consider the needs of their students.
In the email addressed to Saint Mary’s alumni and graduating students the Office of the Registrar announced that the traditional commencement ceremonies will be traded with a drive thru ceremony, and an online website. The email claimed that this trade was necessary to respect the “ongoing health crisis, and in order to ensure a commencement experience that is inclusive and accessible.” The Office of the Registrar continued, claiming that although the “[College community] cannot celebrate in our usual fashion, we hope that these events will honor our students, our traditions, and will offer families and friends the opportunity to celebrate.”
While the announcement of this decision was expected, the early, and method of the announcement were disappointing for graduating students.
To begin, the announcement of the cancellation of the commencement ceremony was an early call to make by Saint Mary’s administration. To have decided in January that a commencement ceremony will not take place at all in May, is not only premature with the immense progress our country is making with vaccinations, but seems to be a cop out by administration to not forfeit the expenses, and time that it takes to plan a commencement ceremony. Saint Mary’s administration is not even attempting to hold a commencement ceremony at a later date, instead, choosing to throw in the towel on uncertain circumstances as a way to not deal with the instability.
The possibility of holding a graduation in the late Summer, or early Fall, is not being entertained, which would provide some more months to provide change. Saint Mary’s administration is not waiting for time to settle, instead, choosing to dismiss the classes of 2020 and 2021. With the direction the College took it seems as if administration is more interested in preserving school funds than honoring their graduating students.
Recently, students have been notified that Saint Mary’s administration is preparing for on campus instruction in August, and requiring first year students to once again live on campus. If the administration feels confident that health and safety guidelines will permit rising occupancy, and in person instruction in the late summer, is a commencement ceremony at that time so far-fetched?
Regardless of these criticisms, the handling of the email was in poor taste as well. The email was not signed by specific members of the Saint Mary’s community, but instead, wiped away as a letter sent automatically on behalf of the Registrar’s Office. They were not called to a virtual townhall, invited to Office Hours with the president, or given a chance to voice their concerns. Students expect emails such as this to contain information regarding adding and dropping courses, and paying their statements. They do not expect to learn that their commencement ceremony is being canceled.
The email makes no mention of President Donahue’s opinions, as he is absent from addressing his students. Although President Donahue is retiring this summer as of now he is still the leader of the College, and still holds the responsibility for any actions the College takes. As our campus leader he should have written or prepared a video for graduating students, letting them know the decisions on the table. Instead, he has not attached his name to an announcement, leaving the decision process to the Board of Trustees. These actions would have showed Saint Mary’s students that there is acknowledgement for the deep disappointment this announcement would bring.
The majority of graduating seniors have been attending Saint Mary’s since their first year of college. For four years they have stood by this institution, paying the high cost of tuition to receive an incredible education. For the administration to seemingly “dismiss” their graduating students from this institution at the conclusion of this year is a betrayal to the community they have asked us to support. The College leaders have asked the graduating students to stand by them for four years, yet, in the students’ moment of need, the College leaders have refused to stand by them.
Saint Mary’s graduates deserved more respect from the higher ups within the Saint Mary’s community to inform them of their change in commencement respectfully, not be told through an email, as if their accomplishments were afterthoughts. However, this year it seems as if Saint Mary’s administration believes that students have become so normalized with major life events being canceled, a simple email will do.
Victoria Vidales '21,