In response to Thursday morning’s announcement that spring commencement will take place virtually, some students are sad but unsurprised, while others are supporting a student petition calling for an opt-in, in-person graduation ceremony.
In the email announcement sent to the student body, University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel pointed to the uncertainty around future gathering sizes, travel restrictions, infection rates and vaccination rates as strong factors in the decision to move commencement to a virtual format.
“Many different scenarios for a ceremony were considered, along with the feedback our students expressed in our commencement survey, conversations we’ve had with students over the last few months, and consultations with campus public health experts,” Schlissel wrote.
However, the petition, with more than 3,300 signatures as of 9:00 p.m. Thursday, urges the University to look into other alternatives. The petition argues an in-person ceremony in the Big House, which can hold 107,601 people, would still be capable of upholding social distancing guidelines.
“8,000 seniors in the stadium wouldn’t even fill 10% of the capacity, and it would be even less if you split up by major,” the petition reads.
The petition also cited masks and testing as a way to keep the event safe amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Public Policy senior Tal Lipkin, who previously worked for The Michigan Daily, created the petition. Lipkin told The Daily she created the petition because she strongly believes there is a way to hold a safe and socially-distanced graduation ceremony.
“The decision by the University to move commencement to an entirely online format left me and my classmates feeling frustrated and defeated,” Lipkin said. “I decided to make a petition to give students the opportunity to voice their concerns in a format that could potentially reach the administration. It immediately became clear that a large portion of students and their families agree that there is the potential for a safe graduation ceremony.”
Lipkin said she believes the University should try to exhaust all of their options before making a final decision to move the ceremony to a fully virtual format.
But LSA Senior Amytess Girgis tweeted about the petition with the caption, “No. stop. Just stop.” She said she agreed with the University administration’s decision and thinks an in-person graduation would not be worth the risk.
“I am not even remotely surprised at this announcement and no one else should be,” Girgis said. “This is exactly what we expected … There is absolutely no reason or need to be bringing people into the city of Ann Arbor to have an in-person graduation. I would rather graduate and have my loved ones be alive than get to go to the Big House and have my loved ones be dead. So it’s a pretty clear decision for me.”
Girgis also said she thinks there are other issues for the University administration to focus on rather than planning a public-health conscious in-person graduation.
“In times like these it’s really important we focus on the issues at hand,” Girgis said. “People are dying, people are struggling, economically. Countless students, faculty and staff at the University are putting in way too much work and experiencing way too much stress as a result of this pandemic. I would rather that we be focusing on those issues and not on the ridiculous proposition that we have graduation in-person.”
In response to a request for comment from The Daily on the petition, the Office of Public Affairs pointed to an article written by The University Record on the virtual spring commencement.
The article says the University plans to invite the Classes of 2020 and 2021 back to campus in the future for in-person events to honor the graduates. In a survey sent out to December graduates, the article reports more than 70% of the respondents answered at least “moderately interested” in returning, with about a third answering “extremely interested.”
Business senior Anna Crova signed the petition and sent an email to the president’s office stating she understood the risks of an in-person graduation, but was extremely disappointed in the University’s lack of effort in trying to curate an in-person option for graduating seniors.
“After what has happened this year, I really don’t feel proud to be a Wolverine,” Crova said. “I wish that there was more effort put into finding an in-person option for graduation because I am leaving this school with a final year that makes me disappointed in the school I chose to attend. We’ve had a mentally exhausting year, and many of us need this.”
Daily Staff Reporter Julia Forrest can be reached a firstname.lastname@example.org.
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