Class of 2020 left in the dark over postponed commencement ceremony

Former+UVM+seniors+watch+a+virtual+graduation+May+17.+Two+months+after+UVM+was+supposed+to%0Arelease+students%E2%80%99+graduation+plans%2C+the+University+has+refused+to+say+when+the+ceremony+will+occur.

Sawyer Loftus/The Vermont Cynic

Former UVM seniors watch a virtual graduation May 17. Two months after UVM was supposed to release students’ graduation plans, the University has refused to say when the ceremony will occur.

Commencement for the class of 2020 has yet to happen, and despite promises from the administration to release a plan by August, the class of recent grads has been left in the dark. 

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, UVM was forced to close campus during spring break. As a result, UVM postponed the in-person graduation and held a virtual celebration May 17 instead.

“In the first week of August, after we have a better sense of how things are progressing here and across the country, we will send details on the timing of your rescheduled Commencement ceremony,” President Suresh Garimela stated in an April 28 email. 

Now, five months after UVM was forced to cancel graduation ceremonies and two months after UVM was supposed to tell students about plans to reschedule, UVM refuses to say when recent graduates will get a much-promised ceremony.

“We’re really upset that it didn’t happen, but I think a lot of people are sort of losing hope that it will happen because we’ve had such little communication from the school,” said Graduate Hannah McDonald. 

The Cynic reached out to Commencement Coordinator Kelly O’Malley for comment. However, she declined an interview, deferring instead to UVM’s Commencement website. 

“We had hoped to share news by now regarding an official, in-person commencement celebration for you, but given the continuing and rapidly evolving nature of the pandemic and its impact across the country, the future remains unclear,” the website stated.

UVM will continue to monitor the situation and provide more definitive information as soon as possible, according to the statement.

On Sept 12, McDonald posted in the class of 2020’s Facebook group: “Bets on how long it takes to hear about graduation?” she wrote.

Two weeks later on Sept. 23, Justin Schimmel posted a screenshot of an email he received with the same statement UVM posted to its website.

Gabi Freeda, another recent grad, said she hopes to attend the ceremony if there is one in the future, but worries that UVM will never follow through with their promise.

“I think ultimately if they were to have something that would be really nice to see people that I never got to say goodbye to, and kind of have a reunion if it was safe and if it was feasible,” she said. “But like I do feel like there’s a chance that nothing will happen.”

Freeda said although she understands the administration had never dealt with something like this, she felt frustrated with how late in the spring the commencement delay was announced because people had already made dinner and hotel reservations. 

Garimella announced that in-person commencement had been canceled in an April 3 email to students, roughly six weeks before the scheduled date of the ceremony. 

McDonald said she was frustrated and wished there would be more open communication from the school in general, but that she and many of her peers said that they think delaying commencement was the right decision given the circumstances. 

“It is a worldwide pandemic and we’re all figuring our crap out at the moment,” McDonald said. 

Freeda agrees. Although she wishes UVM was more transparent, she wants the University to focus on keeping campus safe. 

“I’m aware that this is simply the last thing that UVM has on their mind right now because they are caring for, you know, 10,000 or 12,000 kids who are on campus right now,” she said. “And as far as I’m concerned, we got out in the nick of time.” 

According to UVM’s commencement website, this year’s graduation is still listed as a future undergraduate ceremony for May 23, 2021. Alternatively, last year’s May 17, 2020 graduation was listed as a ‘virtual celebration.’

However, O’Malley did not respond to a request for comment on whether this year’s commencement will be postponed as well.