Earlier this morning, President Brian Casey announced to the Colgate community that the Class of 2020’s much anticipated May 17 commencement ceremony would be canceled as a result of the current COVID-19 pandemic. While President Casey canceled one celebration, he announced another: the Class of 2020 would have its Commencement, almost a year to the day after its intended ceremony, on May 22 and 23, 2021. Additionally, he said he will work with students to plan a virtual celebration to mark the originally scheduled commencement date.
As much as this decision leaves many of us with a heavy heart, the Colgate administration absolutely made the right decision. A gathering of this scale in May would put graduates, families and the Village of Hamilton at risk. We are at war, and certain sacrifices are unavoidable.
Colgate stands out from similar institutions in this decision to reschedule its current seniors’ graduation; many universities have outright canceled ceremonies for the Class of 2020 with no promise of a make-up, no attempt to celebrate or send off the students they’ve housed and taught for four years. On behalf of the Class of 2020, thank you President Casey and all of the administrators and faculty members who are working hard to make this celebration possible.
That being said, many questions remain. What will this delayed ceremony look like? Who will be there to celebrate with the graduates? Who will be missing in the ceremony?
COVID-19 has exposed inequities in every facet of American society. Gaps in the health care system are flaunting racial and class disparities, and low-income Americans are wondering how to pay their rent and feed their children while being forced out of their jobs. The New York Times recently reported on how remote online classes are exposing class divides and economic disparities among students meant to feel like equal. Please, do not let the Class of 2020’s delayed commencement be another reminder of these differences.
We ask that the University ensure that first-generation and low-income members of the Class of 2020 have the financial support to attend their commencement with their families. It is understandable that a year from now, some graduates may have jobs or other duties they cannot step away from to attend the ceremony. It would, however, be unacceptable for students and families to lose out on celebrating due to financial reasons. The costs of travel, lodging and unpaid leave from work may be too much for some students to bear, when in a normal year they would not need to travel to campus in the first place. These questions would be a non-issue, as they would have already been on campus, living in student housing. Considering the pandemic’s economic ramifications already being witnessed, we can and should safeguard against this plight. It is not a question of if some students would be in this position, but how many. Financial status should not be the deciding factor of who gets to celebrate the hard work and accomplishments of four years at this prestigious university.
This is an unprecedented moment in our history. For many of us, it is unimaginably sad and extraordinarily lonely. The daily barrage of news holds little comfort. We wish, more than anything, to be gathered again with friends and family. Our hope lies in a future that allows for celebrations such as commencement. So please, when that future is realized, let us all reconvene.