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Loyola Announces Switch to Virtual Commencement in August

Zack Miller | The PhoenixLoyola officials said they will plan an in-person commencement for 2020 graduates at a later date, but it's unclear exactly when or how it could happen.

The Loyola commencement ceremony will no longer take place on-campus and will happen virtually instead, according to a May 20 email from university officials. 

The ceremony was originally postponed to August — after originally being scheduled for May — in early March in the hopes that large gatherings would be permitted, The Phoenix reported. The university cited Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s five-phase Restore Illinois plan as the reason why the postponed ceremony is going virtual.

“These directives and the associated timelines and benchmarks now make it highly unlikely that we will be able to congregate at large events in one location by early August,” the email read, signed by President Jo Ann Rooney and Provost Norberto Grzywacz.

Some recent graduates approve of Loyola’s decision to move the ceremony online, including Julia Krueger who’s graduating with a degree in chemistry.

“I’m glad they’re prioritizing our health,” the 21-year-old said. “I really don’t think there would’ve been a way for everyone to gather in one place for an in-person commencement and do it safely.”

Others graduating seniors such as Maggie Swietkowski, a statistics major, expected the ceremony to ultimately happen virtually and wishes it would take place sooner than August.

“I don’t know why they didn’t just do a virtual commencement to begin with,” Swietkowski said. “I’m resigned to the fact that it’s virtual and kind of annoyed that it’s happening in August and not in May.”

Large gatherings of 50 or more people, including commencement ceremonies, can’t be held until the Northeast region of the state — where Chicago is located — reaches Phase five of Pritzker’s re-opening plan. 

Phase five is when the economy can fully reopen but in order to reach this phase, there needs to be a viable treatment option or vaccine for the coronavirus. The most optimistic timetable for a potential vaccine to be released to the public is in September, according to AstraZeneca, a pharmaceutical company working with Oxford University to develop a vaccine. This timetable makes it unlikely Illinois will reach Phase five by August.

Other schools such as Northwestern will hold a virtual commencement ceremony, similar to a large zoom call where participants will join a video call to hear from speakers including students and Mayor Lori Lightfoot, according to its commencement website. 

Despite Loyola’s choice to move its ceremony online, the university said it will host an in-person celebration for the class of 2020 at an unspecified later date when “it is legally allowable and medically advisable.” 

Kreuger said she likes how Loyola committed to having an in-person event to celebrate since a virtual ceremony won’t have the same effect as an in-person one. 

“There is only so much you can do through a screen,” Kreuger said. 

Andrew McAllister, who’s graduating with a political science degree, was also appreciative of the university’s commitment but is uncertain that a long-delayed in-person ceremony will be as valuable. 

“It was really nice of them to offer that,” said McAllister. “I don’t know if enough people will attend for it to be worthwhile.”

Loyola hasn’t released any additional information about what the commencement ceremony will look like or how it will operate. Loyola officials declined to comment further on the topic.

While their undergraduate careers are over, some graduates didn’t have any traditional momentos to celebrate such as caps and gowns, which disappointed both Kreuger and Swietkowski. 

“I know a lot of people wanted to take pictures and we don’t have any of our regalia so it’s hard to do that,” Kreuger said. 

Loyola planned to give the caps and gowns to the graduates in August for the ceremony. When the ceremony was shifted online, the university said they’ll ship the caps and gowns to the graduates’ houses but it’s unclear when that’s expected to happen, according to Kreuger.

University officials didn’t respond to questions over the process of giving caps and gowns to the graduates, but in the May 20 email they said they’ll release more information about the regalia as soon as possible. 

Graduating in a pandemic was certainly unexpected and what is disappointing about finishing college remotely was missing the little experiences of graduating, according to McAllister. 

“We weren’t able to have those moments … to have closure over everything,” McAllister said. “Even those small things like going through those green doors of the library for the second time … was disappointing.”

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