In a typical year, thousands of seniors would crowd into Schoellkopf Field to celebrate their graduation as loved ones snapped photos from the stands. This year however, graduating seniors will receive their diplomas without their families or many of their peers.
Many graduating Cornell students were pleasantly surprised by President Pollack’s April 6 announcement that commencement will be reduced and in-person, but lamented that their families couldn’t take part.
The modified event is set to take place during the weekend of May 29 at Schoellkopf Field, in three smaller, socially-distanced ceremonies separated by college, instead of the usual, university-wide event. Attendance is open to students from the graduating classes of May 2021, August 2020 and December 2020.
Unlike previous commencements, guests are not allowed into Schoellkopf Field and discouraged from traveling to Ithaca.
The change has prompted a range of reactions from graduating seniors, many of whom did not expect to have an in-person commencement at all, especially considering the cancellation of other annual University events like class reunions.
Stephanie Wong ’21 was studying abroad in Australia when Cornell closed campus last spring. Upon hearing that commencement will be held in-person this May, Wong was pleasantly surprised.
“When I got that email, there was a lot of excitement, because for so long, basically, since I had come home from Australiaback in March, it was just kind of assumed that it wouldn’t be in person,” Wong said. “Those hopes died with everything that kept happening last year.”
Aside from graduating seniors, the commencement ceremony has particular importance to their families, who may have few other experiences on the campus.
Asma Khan ’21 distinctly remembers her sister’s graduation from Cornell in 2019, during which she showed her grandparents, who had traveled from Pakistan to attend the ceremony, around campus. She recalls looking through past yearbooks with her family in Willard Straight Hall and spotting her uncle, who also attended Cornell.
“Having it being their granddaughter’s graduation, and then them finding their own son in the yearbook, I think it was like a very proud moment for all of them.”
Khan’s family had gotten their vaccine this year in hopes that they would be able to attend her own graduation but because they would not be permitted to attend the commencement ceremony they cancelled their travel plans.
Shivank Nayak ’21 said they are disheartened by the ceremony’s restricted guest attendance, reflecting that the event is perhaps more important to their relatives and loved ones than it is to themselves.
Anishka Singh ’21, also felt the sadness of not having her family at the ceremony.
“I feel like my parents helped me get through a lot in the past four years. Whenever I would need something or if I had a bad exam I’d always turn to them,” Singh said. “And my sister’s a freshman now. So I feel like it would have been really rewarding to have them see me walk across or do the graduation in person.”
Despite some disappointment with a limited ceremony, many students are still grateful for the opportunity to attend an in-person event in any form.
“I think it’s not necessarily bad to have a smaller ceremony, because we are a class of thousands of students and there is something to be said for a closer setting, but it’s definitely not what I visualized,” Nayak said.
Emily Hollis ’21 plans on celebrating with her own family in Ithaca after the ceremony, fully agreeing with the University’s decision to disallow guests from attending.
“They did the best they could do,” Hollis said. “It makes complete sense. It’s not what I wanted out of my senior year, but it’s the best outcome from the circumstances.”
Correction, April 30, 11:21 a.m.: A previous version of this article used incorrect pronouns for Shivank Nayak ’21. The article has been updated.