FAU’s virtual commencement ceremonies leave students with mixed emotions

Graduating during a pandemic was far from ideal, but some students appreciate FAU’s efforts.

Fall+2020+graduates+had+a+different+experience+than+most+grads%2C+having+a+fully+online+experience.+Photo+by+Alex+Liscio.

Fall 2020 graduates had a different experience than most grads, having a fully online experience. Photo by Alex Liscio.

Gillian Manning, Contributing Writer

Students in 2020 were faced with the challenge of transitioning to virtual learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but graduates faced the adverse odds to receive their diploma, despite not being able to celebrate traditionally by walking on stage. 

FAU’s approach to graduation ceremonies during this pandemic was to create virtual, pre-recorded ceremonies for students and their families to view at any time. While some students felt there were many positive attributes associated with the ceremony, there was also a sense of disconnect and a lack of closure. 

The pre-recorded ceremonies were filmed individually for each college, however. Each college’s ceremony included the same introduction featuring FAU’s president, John Kelly. Each ceremony concluded with the reading of students’ names and some words from professors. 

One gesture that may have been lacking was student photographs. Phoebe Morrow, 21, who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Multimedia Journalism, expressed that she would have appreciated photographs along with her peers’ names. 

Samuel Cudmore, 25, who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Secondary Math Education, agreed that photographs would have been a nice addition to the ceremony. Names are harder to remember than faces, he explained, and he would have appreciated the opportunity to recognize the peers he’s worked with along the way to graduation. “That could have been a bit of a comradery builder,” Cudmore said. 

Morrow watched the ceremony in-between virtual meetings while working from home. “It was a little underwhelming,” she said, but the ceremony did exceed her expectations.

Morrow explained the ceremony left her feeling like FAU did try to connect with students despite the distance. John Kelly taking the time to speak and the inclusion of real students’ voices contributed to the impression that a real effort was made. While certain aspects of the ceremony left an impression on some students, others were not as impressed.

“I didn’t expect anything more from FAU,” said Natasha Hunter, 21, who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Biology.  The pre-recorded ceremony, to Hunter, felt like a convenient and easy option.

“I get it, you can’t have everyone watch it live, but everything’s just so disconnected and it makes it feel like maybe they’re reusing recordings from the summer or from last spring,” Hunter said.

Hunter expressed that the ceremony reflected how FAU handles other issues. “They don’t really address students as equals or inform them of anything… Everything is just so, ‘here you go.’”

Cudmore expressed that his final semesters at FAU were difficult, not only for him but for his professors as well. He acknowledged that the transition has been difficult and was appreciative of the work FAU had put in to create the ceremony. 

“It was disappointing not being able to walk,” he said. “Imagine you’re running a race and you’re coming up on the finish line and then the finish line just kind of disappears and everyone tells you to stop running… It’s not the closure that you were expecting. But I think the little ceremony that they did was great.”

Cudmore noted how even though speakers in the ceremony were filming in an empty auditorium or from their offices or homes, they still were dressed in their formal, doctoral gowns. He appreciated the effort of keeping the ceremony professional and taking the time to acknowledge the students’ achievements.

“I think that the main thing that stuck with me was that they were really trying to get the point across that it sucks you’re not walking, but that doesn’t diminish the achievement and accomplishment,” Cudmore said. 

That was a sentiment that stuck with Morrow as well. “I think that they tried to connect with the students. Especially with the year that we’re in with the pandemic, that we graduated during a pandemic and we had to transfer last minute to online. I did feel appreciated in that sense,” Morrow said. 

The ceremony mirrors how FAU and many other universities have adapted to academics during a pandemic with classes and activities being conducted in a virtual environment and the success of overcoming these obstacles is not lost on students.

“At least I was able to finish and push through,”  Morrow said. “I’m just really excited to be an FAU alumnus now.” 

Gillian Manning is a contributing writer for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email or tweet her @gillianmanning_ or email [email protected]