COVID-19 challenges commencement ceremony

COVID-19 challenges commencement ceremony

By Alexis Miller

The Pensacola State College (PSC) on-again, off-again spring 2020 commencement ceremony is officially back on.

The Pensacola Bay Center that was anticipated to be filled with graduating students and their families was a dark place on May 6. There was not a person to be found. 

Graduation caps and gowns were overstocked at the PSC bookstore as students who were preparing to walk across the stage to recognize their achievements were instead isolated in their homes. 

The graduating class of 2020 was put through the wringer during their final semester as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe. PSC announced June 18 that the spring commencement ceremony will be held on August 1. Students who want to participate are required to RSVP by July 23.  

In May, PSC President Dr. Meadows encouraged the class of 2020 to be prepared for virtual congratulations. “Although we have reserved a backup date in August for graduation, it is unlikely that we will be able to have a traditional graduation ceremony,” Meadows said.

The students who have long awaited to walk across the stage to receive their diplomas as a celebration of their achievements have been riding a roller coaster as the plans for the ceremony have continued to change over the past several months. 

 “I was very disappointed to hear the graduation had been postponed,” PSC student Audrey Stemen said. “I was very excited to be able to participate in a ceremony to commemorate my time at PSC and celebrate with my friends and family.”

Dual enrolled students sacrificed many senior year milestones in their high school career so that they could graduate from high school and college at the same time. 

“It definitely sucks not being able to have the ceremony when planned because as a dual enrollment senior it was a representation of the end of my high school career and the steps I’ve taken into my college journey,” Shaleyah Carter said. 

Nursing graduates were not only feeling the loss of graduation, but they also lost the pinning ceremony which is a big step for every nursing student. “Having a pinning ceremony at a later date doesn’t carry the same significance,” Kathleen Hicks, a nursing graduate said.

Many of the nursing students will have entered the workforce by the time the next ceremony opportunity arises. “It doesn’t feel like graduation,” Hicks said. 

Students weren’t the only ones feeling the loss of graduation. Instructors, faculty and staff were disappointed that they weren’t able to see the students that they know have worked so hard to get to celebrate their achievements. Clubs across PSC took to social media to highlight their graduating students and congratulate them on their success. 

PSC Spanish instructor and Robinson Honors coordinator, Amber Carey, was extremely disappointed when she heard that graduation may not happen. “I know how much it means to them, but I think it was definitely the right decision for everyone’s safety,” said Carey.

The Corsair adviser and English instructor, Paula Ingram, felt bad for her graduating students on May 6, so she found a unique way to recognize them. “There wasn’t much I could do to make it better, but I put on my graduation regalia, went to Graffiti Bridge and took a photo in front of a Congrats Graduates painting to honor them,” Ingram said. The photo was sent to the Corsair students and posted on Facebook.   

PSC took to social media to congratulate the graduates as the school sorted out how they were going to handle the commencement ceremony. They posted a congratulations speech from President Meadows and a video of a list of the names of all the spring 2020 graduates on Facebook.

When the news was released that the commencement ceremony is now planned to happen, the excitement that students felt leading up to the original graduation had since been lost in the chaos of the pandemic. 

“I had mostly come to terms with the idea that I wouldn’t have a graduation and I still don’t feel completely convinced that it will happen,” Stemen said. 

Fall is a time for new academic beginnings and many of the spring 2020 graduates will be moving on to their next steps in their academic careers when the commencement ceremony is planned to take place. 

“I think it’s good that the graduation is back on,” Gomez said. “I would like to walk the stage as a PSC student but I am moving to Orlando for UFC in August and don’t know if I’ll have the time.” 

Students who still want to walk may never get the chance due to scheduling conflicts. “I would feel fine going to graduation, however, because of all the uncertainty about whether the graduation would be held or not, I may now be out of town that weekend and have to miss it anyway,” Stemen said. 

Other students gave up on the idea of walking altogether. “I walked for high school graduation and didn’t feel the need to walk again, but I feel for the students that aren’t able to walk,” Ben Murzin said. “I want to celebrate with them, but with the current crisis, that seems like a far off dream.” 

Though some members of the class of 2020 may not get to walk across the stage, they will keep moving forward in their career paths to make a positive impact in the future as the world recovers from the pandemic.  

 “That’s why we go to nursing school,” Hicks said. Entering into the medical field during the pandemic is intimidating, but the 2020 nursing students are ready and motivated to do their part. 

While some students are entering the workforce, others are pressing on to continue their education. “It’s important that we do not lose the momentum we developed during the semester and that we go into whatever may be next with a revitalized motivation,” Stemen said.

Graduating from college has always been a major stepping stone for many. “Don’t dwell on graduation but of all the experiences that led up to graduating, for nothing can ever take that away,” Sarah Richards, PSC 2018 alumna said. 

The graduation ceremony that is scheduled to take place on August 1 is going to look much different than past ceremonies. The ceremony will be split into two, one taking place in the morning and one in the afternoon, and everyone in attendance will be required to wear a face mask.

 Dr. Meadows will be handing diplomas to students across a table. Students will be allowed to have up to six family members participate, and no faculty members outside of those working the ceremony will be allowed to attend.

Regardless as to whether or not students choose to walk, they are encouraged to “rejoice in your achievement and know that your sacrifice is saving lives,” Carey said. 

The Pensacola Bay Center may have been a dark and empty place on May 6 and diplomas may have shown up in the mail weeks later, but the class of 2020 was celebrated across the country. 

The graduating students have proven to themselves and to the world that they have the passion and willpower to press through any situation. 

The Corsair would like to congratulate the graduating class of 2020 on their success despite the challenges they faced during the spring semester.  

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