Ben Parker / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Cornell has waived its swim test for seniors who haven't yet completed it in the light of the class cancellation.

March 16, 2020

Cornell Students Avoid ‘Sink or Swim’ Ultimatum as University Waives Swim Tests and PE Classes

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The COVID-19 outbreak and resulting chaos scared some seniors into thinking they wouldn’t graduate on time because of unmet requirements — including the long-standing swim test and physical education credits.

But because Cornell urged students to immediately vacate campus in the midst of the pandemic, University leadership waived these requirements for graduating seniors in an unprecedented move. They also gave passes for students in all PE classes, contingent on attendance.

The Cornell swim test was first created to “teach people how to swim and make it a life skill,” according to the physical education website.

Since 1905, Cornell has required students to pass both their swim test and two PE classes to earn their diplomas. To graduate, one must either swim three laps without stopping or take two semesters of PE 1100: Beginning Swimming.

After Pollack announced that classes would become virtual starting April 6, students waiting until the approved April swim test dates were suddenly scrambling to find a solution.

Caroline Chang ’20 entered freshman year with a sprained ankle and was depending on the April test to complete the swim requirement.

“Up until a few days ago, I was pretty worried because I want to graduate on time and don’t want to have more complications with my job start date post-grad,” Chang said.

Most seniors received the news through an email from the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education or through their majors. But some, like Bobby Ma ’20, found out in a different way: the “Cornell: Any Person, Any Meme” Facebook page.

“I was very excited for my friends who hadn’t taken the swim test yet,” Ma said. “I’m just relieved and happy that there is clarity.”

Students took to the Facebook group "Cornell: Any Person, Any Meme" to share their frustrations and make jokes about the developing COVID-19 situation on campus.

Students took to the Facebook group “Cornell: Any Person, Any Meme” to share their frustrations and make jokes about the developing COVID-19 situation on campus.

Even those who had completed their swim tests during their freshman year supported the University’s decision to waive given the circumstances.

“I think it’s a good thing given what’s going on right now and the amount of uncertainty in the air,” said Tyler Henry ’20, who completed the test during his freshman orientation week. “It’s one less thing for seniors to worry about, especially when they’re concerned if they’re even going to be able to walk and attend any commencement at this point.”

Given the unique circumstances surrounding the end of the academic year, Cornell was also lenient with PE requirements. If students had fewer absences than their instructor allowed, they earned a passing mark and credit for the course.

“[At first], it was really frustrating,” said Joyce Bi ’20 about the Tuesday announcement’s resulting confusion. She was enrolled in a PE class, but wouldn’t have been able to finish it  before the PE announcement and the eventual cancellation of classes until April 6.

“I thought that the University was making me leave, making me enroll on a 15-hour PE class to be completed in the 14 days we thought we had left, and making me pay an extra cost,” she continued.

But most students agreed that among Cornell’s many reactions to COVID-19, this response was an appropriate one.

Rebecca Ekeanyanwu ’20 said the University “made the right call.”

“I was grateful they passed this because there were a lot of students stressing about the swim tests and how it forfeits the purpose of students being in a safe environment,” Ekeanyanwu said.