New College’s May 2020 graduation, initially cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, was postponed until December 5. Now a mandate from the Board of Governors of the State University System has forced the college to postpone the postponement until May 21, 2021.
In an email to students, President Donal O’Shea expressed his condolences to 2020 graduates and extended an invitation to them to join 2021 graduates’ commencement ceremony, should the pandemic allow it.
2020 graduates Sydney Clingo (‘16) and Amaranth Sander (‘16) said they had not had high hopes about the December graduation ceremony in the first place, but that the cancellation stung nonetheless.
“Many of my friends have already left Florida, so it wouldn’t have been the same,” Clingo reflected. “Either way, my heart is sad because I am the first in my family to graduate college and I was looking forward to walking the stage and making my family proud.”
In the email, O’Shea encouraged 2020 graduates to provide feedback to plan for a potential joint, rescheduled May 2021 graduation ceremony, assuming that it takes place. O’Shea suggested that 2020 graduates could walk across the stage first, followed by this year’s graduates, and also mentioned the possibility for two separate graduations in the spring.
“I think it would feel kind of strange walking with another cohort, but the class of 2021 is made up of wonderful New College students and friends who have been going through a lot of the same coronavirus disappointments that the class of 2020 went through, so I think it would be the best option.” Sander said. “I would feel happy and proud to walk with fellow students at an in-person ceremony.”
However, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc both across Florida and worldwide, the likelihood of a commencement ceremony in 2021 has been called into question.
“I always pictured myself cheering my friends on when their names get called and them doing the same for me,” Clingo reflected. “To be honest, my hopes aren’t high that a May graduation will even happen.”
Both 2020 graduates interviewed for this piece suggested that the college collect feedback from their cohort about what to do. O’Shea implored graduates to let him and his assistant, Shelley Wilbur, know their preferences. Sander suggested that the college send a survey about graduation to every student that would have walked last May to see what they think, and that options for different scenarios and written feedback should be included “so that the classes of 2020 and 2021 can all be heard.”
When asked about the potential for a Zoom graduation—a virtual method of celebrating graduates that has been referred to as “both a creepy, post-apocalyptic exercise and a corny, semi-pointless ritual” by the New York Times—Clingo said it sounded “like a joke,” and Sander described the concept as “probably more painful than never having a graduation at all.”
“New College commencement was something I wanted so so badly—it was the coolest graduation ceremony at the most beautiful place with everyone wearing their amazing costumes, and I know a Zoom graduation could never capture even a fraction of that experience,” Sander reflected.
“This year has been filled with so much loss, but I guess that’s why I feel we can do so much better than a Zoom thing—I think we need more than just a Zoom thing to look forward to,” Clingo added.