Pomp and circumstance: Graduating amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Local News

ITHACA, N.Y. (WETM) – For high school and college seniors, graduating in a pandemic was probably not in their four year plan. Although the circumstances are not ideal, students are making the best of it and celebrating safely.

Ceremonies range from in-person to virtual and everything in between. Many schools are offering hybrid graduations, allowing both on campus and remote students to participate. Some schools allow guests, like Mansfield University and Cornell University, while others do not, like Ithaca College. Corning Community College had a drive through ceremony last weekend, where students and families stayed in or around their vehicles for the service.

Elmira College is planning for a fully in-person event and graduates can invite two guests. Everyone must follow institution protocol of masking and social distancing, even though mask guidance has changed in New York State. Students and guests also must be vaccinated or have a negative COVID test prior to arrival on campus.

“It’s been difficult to be perfectly honest with you, but students really want to have some sort of normal commencement ceremony and some of the events that surround that,” Dr. Liz Lambert, vice president of enrollment management and campus life at Elmira College, said.

Schools have tried to host events on campus, accompanied by virtual gatherings to honor their graduates. For students, they remain optimistic about graduating during a time of unknown.

“There’s like a lot of these things that like you think are going to happen, like graduating in person, having my parents there and having my professors there. You kind of take for granted,” Bianca Summerville, Ithaca College graduate and West Elmira resident, added.

For many, they were unsure about how the year was going to go and if they would be able to walk the stage.

“It was it was such an experiment,” Justin Holch, Ithaca College graduate, continued. “I’m really happy with the way it turned out. You want to be upset about it and you want to be angry about it, but you can’t. I didn’t get the college experience I wanted but a lot worse could have happened.”

Amid the pandemic, students do not seem regretful, rather they recognize their college experience was unique.

“Now that I’ve had time to make my peace with it, no I really don’t think I’m missing out on anything,” Summerville added.

Some college traditions were sidelined for the second year in a row. Ithaca College celebrated their annual Senior Splash, where graduates jump into the iconic fountains to commemorate the end of their undergraduate journey.

Administrators were strained, having to reinvent plans and protocols as state health guidance changed.

“We have had a lot of virtual meetings. we’re trying to stay up with the guidance and still offer students a great experience, as much as we can,” Dr. Lambert said.

Despite the challenges of virtual or hybrid school, the Class of 2021 is hopeful and thankful.

“That’s all you can really ask for after the last 15 months. I guess grateful is the word I would use at this point,” Holch continued.

“They recognize that this isn’t better than a normal year. This isn’t worse than a normal year. It’s just different,” Summerville concluded.

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