Update: Cornell seniors will have a commencement ceremony, President Martha E. Pollack wrote in an email on Friday. The University hasn’t decided when and where it will take place, but Pollack assured seniors it will take place in Ithaca and that all graduates and families will be invited.
Congregating around the Arts Quad, walking to Schoellkopf and celebrating the completion of college is a longstanding tradition countless Cornellians have enjoyed, but as the spread of COVID-19 led to scores of event cancellations, this experience could elude the Class of 2020.
As updates continue to trickle down from the administration, the student body and faculty have been left confused regarding the logistical implications for the remainder of the school year.
But no group was sent into as much of a tailspin as the senior class, who were forced to compress their last two months on campus into a mere few days and left wondering if their nearly four years of hard work and dedication would culminate in an anticlimactic end.
The termination of in-person classes due to the novel coronavirus has already resulted in the cancellation of Slope Day, Dragon Day and other beloved University traditions. These events typically mark the beginning of the end for the seniors and commemorate their time at Cornell, but the Class of 2020 will have no such opportunity to bask in these celebrations.
Fearful that commencement weekend could be next, Kathryn Cooke ’20 created an online petition in the hopes of postponing the ceremony until a further date, allowing graduating seniors to be given the farewell they deserve.The petition had received over 800 signatures as of Thursday afternoon.
“I noticed many peer institutions moving their graduations online or canceling them altogether, so I knew the window for getting students’ voices heard was closing,” Cooke said. “So many things are out of our control right now but having graduation to look forward to is like a light at the end of the tunnel at a time when hope and positivity are desperately needed.”
“While we sincerely hope to hold our traditional Commencement Weekend, it is unknown at this time whether that will be possible,” Pollack wrote in an email to the Cornell community on March 10.
Other universities across the nation have already canceled or postponed their graduation functions due to public health concerns. Close to home, Ithaca College rescheduled its commencement weekend for Aug. 2.
Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania, announced on Monday that a “virtual ceremony” would replace their traditional on-campus commencement weekend. Washington University in St. Louis, on the other hand, announced that it would cancel its ceremony altogether.
Jared Queen ’20, a senior in the School of Hotel Administration, recognized the need for drastic measures given the gravity of the virus, but could not deny feeling disappointed over the possibility of losing the annual send-off.
“I had been closely following the news about the spread of COVID-19, so Friday’s [class suspension] announcement didn’t come as a huge surprise,” Queen said.
“Nonetheless, it would be a shame if I never got to walk alongside my peers at commencement after putting in four years of blood, sweat and tears here,” he continued, “But all we can do is sit and wait out the storm.”
The University is closely monitoring the pandemic’s development as seniors — already disappointed with the outcome of their last semester — anxiously look to the administration for hints of what is to come and, perhaps, a glimmer of hope.
A final decision is expected by the end of March.
But for now, the class of 2020 remains on the edge of their seats, anxiously awaiting a decision from the Office of Commencement Events on whether they will be allowed to walk across Schoellkopf Field with the rest of their class in late May.
Amid the frenzy of packing up their belongings and purchasing last-minute tickets home, the Class of 2020 hurried to cram their final two months into two days — rushing to sneak their final goodbyes, taking graduation pictures in front of McGraw Tower and checking off their last few items from the 161 Things Every Cornellian Should Do.
“I spent my last few days meeting with friends and trying to complete some senior traditions, but there was so much happening last weekend so I wasn’t able to say goodbye to a lot of amazing people,” Cooke said. “We can’t say goodbye like that.”