Zoom University: A Graduation
2020 is finally coming to an end and as 2021 approaches, I can’t help but think about graduating in May. The culmination of schooling for my entire life has led me to the moment that I receive my college diploma and I will be the second person in my family to do so. I’ve dreamt of the moment I walk across the stage in my cap and gown. Thinking about senior pictures, job searches, and preparing to leave UM comes with many concerns, one of which being the lack of a proper commencement ceremony. COVID-19 has changed the world and the ways we share experiences with the people around us. I’ll graduate from Zoom University in May but does that mean I’ll have a Zoom graduation ceremony as well? It’s looking like it.
UM had planned a socially distant commencement at Hard Rock Stadium on December 10. This ceremony would be for Spring 2020 graduates as well as the class of Fall 2020. The facilities were taking safety measures into consideration such as allowing only four family members per graduate to attend and sit in blocked off seats. Those that “graduated” last May were gearing up for their return to Miami and had already begun purchasing plane tickets, hotels, and accommodations for their families when President Julio Frenk shockingly called off the in-person ceremony. In an email written to students and faculty on December 1, Frenk states:
“When we announced our plans to hold in-person commencement ceremonies at Hard Rock Stadium, we were cautiously optimistic that efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic would make doing so possible.” The email continues: “However, as evidenced by official data, the numbers of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths from COVID-19 continue to rise across the United States, including in Florida.”
President Frenk then proceeded to clarify that all ceremonies for all degrees and schools would be on Zoom at the same time and date. He says that the health and safety of not only the graduates, but their families is vital. Prioritizing a socially distant event should be at the forefront and this aspect is understandable. Although safety is a valid concern, a lot of students say that they are feeling disappointed by UM’s decision to make the sudden shift. Students felt like the rug was being pulled from under their feet, especially considering that this decision was made ten days prior to the ceremony. Spring 2020 graduate, Rachel Smith, says that she expected more from the university.
“It’s incredibly disappointing to see how the university handled this situation,” says Smith. “I believe there are ways that graduation could have been conducted safely but it’s clear that it wasn’t a top priority. UM owes the class of 2020, big time.”
Glen Howard Jr., a Fall 2020 graduate, says he was looking forward to the socially distanced commencement that was planned.
“I believe they did what was best for optics,” says Howard. “It was like a literal slap in the face because I honestly did not know if I was gonna graduate. It came down to the wire for me, and I literally passed by one point, so all of that hard work had led up to this one moment.”
Howard says that he felt so disappointed by the Zoom commencement that he decided to opt out of watching graduation entirely. He went about his day as usual and went to work. His excitement for this big accomplishment was diminished, in his eyes.
“I feel like they didn’t do the best that they could,” says Howard. “I would have wanted them to show that they care about their graduates or their students a little bit more because it just feels like they threw us to the back burner and we were just another number in and out.”
Howard’s frustration from this situation is valid. Especially when you take into consideration the alternate arrangements made for UM’s football team, for example. The Miami Hurricanes have a 7-2 record, have traveled to games, and even have audiences in Hard Rock Stadium. So it begs the question - if UM can invest time and resources into keeping socially distant football games alive, then why didn’t they do the same for commencement?
“Anything would’ve been better than a virtual graduation,” says Howard. “I would’ve accepted a walk across Foote Green or even across the steps of Watsco because I’ve seen it been done. Even at other colleges in Miami. So safety really wasn’t the issue, let’s be honest.”
President Frenk has erred on the side of safety when it comes to implementing protocols for the school. With biweekly COVID testings, mandatory flu shots, mandatory face masks and social distancing restrictions; the school has invested a lot of money into staying up and running with some type of normalcy in place. UM has not made any final decisions on whether or not the May 2021 graduation will be via Zoom or in-person.
REPORTER & EDITOR: Jayda Graham
THE CITY, Gravity Magazine, 2020