Seniors Share Their Frustrations with Online Graduation Ceremony

Lukas Keapproth | Loyola University ChicagoIn lieu of an in-person graduation ceremony, Loyola seniors are coming up with alternate ways to celebrate their accomplishments.

In a normal graduation ceremony, graduates would walk across the stage, receive their diplomas and graduate in a room of hundreds of people. Celebrations would consist of photos and dinner with their family and friends. For the class of 2021, graduation plans might look different under the current circumstances.

Environmental policy major Caitlyn Auletta said she and her parents always talked about going to Japan for her graduation present but instead of that, she’ll be going home to Cleveland to watch her graduation virtually with her parents and boyfriend. 

Loyola announced the cancellation of in-person graduation and the transition to an online event due to COVID-19 Nov. 2. This cancellation sparked a couple of petitions, one of which asked Loyola to potentially delay their decision because it came out almost six months before graduation was set to take place, the Phoenix reported.  

This will be Loyola’s second consecutive year hosting a virtual graduation, after the ceremonies for the 2020 graduates went online when the COVID-19 pandemic first began, The Phoenix previously reported.

“We share our students’ disappointment in not being able to come together as a community to honor their incredible achievements at an in-person Commencement ceremony this spring,” Loyola spokesperson Anna Shymanski Zach,  said in an email to The Phoenix on May 4. “From the very beginning of our planning process, we solicited student feedback to ensure they were a key part of the conversation.” 

Though the ceremonies will be virtual, Loyola opened the Green Doors at Cudahy Library and had a professional photographer stationed there from April 25 through May 1 free of charge for students, according to Loyola’s website. 

The Green doors have served as a tradition at Loyola since 2009. Students mark both the beginning and the end of their journeys at Loyola by walking through the Cudahy Library, also known as the Green doors, according to the school’s website.

Senior Sydnie Arin, a biology major, said she’s upset other schools such as DePaul University and Northwestern University changed their graduation plans to in-person options but Loyola hasn’t followed suit. 

Northwestern’s graduation will still be held virtually June 14 at 11 a.m, but over the course of that weekend, each school will be hosting an in-person ceremony for any graduates who would like to attend, according to Northwestern’s website.  

DePaul also plans to provide online and in-person activities for their graduates including an online ceremony and a chance for each graduate to walk across the stage in front of friends and family between May 19-28, according to DePaul’s website. 

“I am disappointed that even after the vaccine came out other schools went to an in-person Loyola didn’t,” Arin said.

Each college within Loyola is releasing the graduation ceremony videos on the designated day along with a live-streamed Baccalaureate Mass on May 10 at 4:00 p.m. and the main ceremony at 6:00 p.m., according to Loyola’s website. 

For graduation day, the ceremony videos will be posted that day at 8:00 a.m. so students can watch them whenever they please that day, according to the website. This decision by the university also sparked another petition to push Loyola to do a live ceremony but nothing came out of it, according to Arin.  

“My reaction to it being on PowerPoint was disappointed because at this point I am just over the university so for them to rob me of that one thing is just disappointing,” Auletta, 21, said. “To know that what I worked for is celebrated by a PowerPoint is so insulting.” 

Shymanski Zach said the university spent months looking into every option available and consulted with multiple productions and video vendors and higher education institutions.

Loyola determined pre-recorded festivities are the best way to follow the City of Chicago and State of Illinois COVID-19 protocols, avoid technical difficulties, produce the best program possible and accommodate the students and viewers joining from out of state, according to Shymanski Zach. 

Shymanski Zach said the Commencement Steering Committee worked with a professional production company to produce each ceremony video. She additionally added the editing team has spent about 150 hours editing all of the video footage to create the videos, making them more detailed than a PowerPoint presentation.

“Graduation should be something that you remember for the rest of your life but I’m not going to remember a PowerPoint for the rest of my life,” Spanish major Lea Smeester, 21, said. “It for sure stinks but it is what it is and there’s nothing I can do in my power to change it so I have to make the best of it.” 

Smeester said her family is coming to Chicago from Michigan to watch the ceremony with her and go out to dinner afterward. She is also planning to go on campus and take pictures with a progressional photographer.

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