Commencement to be virtual

Mitchell Roland and RachelAnn Degnan

On Jan. 21, students and families received confirmation that the 2021 commencement held at the end of spring quarter would be online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the CWU Provost Michelle DenBeste, the decision to make the annual celebration a virtual event was based on the virus’s continued spread.

“We have been waiting a bit longer than we usually would with the hope that maybe we could do an in-person commencement,” DenBeste said. “But with the slow vaccine roll out and the rising numbers of cases, we realized that it wasn’t likely to be possible.”

At CWU, commencement is not just a celebration for students but the staff as well.

“It’s a ceremony that we all share in. If you work in academia, it’s the things that [tie] us together every single year,” DenBeste said. “We get to reconnect with our students. We get to see their families, [and] we get to share with them in their celebrations. So it’s really disappointing.”

Students have gone to social media and other outlets to express their opinions on the virtual commencement, with most sharing dissatisfaction.

Jamie Gilbert was planning on walking with her two children for her Master’s in information technology management.

“I walked for my first masters, and I told previous students of mine who were on the fence on whether to walk at graduation [that] there is nothing that feels more fulfilling than when you stand in front of your family, friends and peers and get that moment to celebrate all of that hard work,” Jamie Gilbert said. “[After I got my] two bachelor’s degrees, I remember holding up both of my diplomas just looking at my kids in the crowd, yelling ‘I did it!’ It was just exuberating.”

Gilbert’s oldest child, Meghan Gilbert, a grad student in the Information Technology and Administrative Management (ITAM)  department, believes that commencement is a celebration of achievement.

“Commencement is a celebration of the hard work that you put in to receive your degree,” Meghan Gilbert said. “We’ve all been working hard throughout this pandemic. So commencement this year would have meant something more special because it’s not only a celebration but a coming together, which would be unique throughout this whole past year.”

Dylan Gilbert, an ITAM major and a double minor in communication and apparel textile and merchandise, expressed how excited he was to walk in his first commencement.

“Commencement is a milestone. It’s like a huge breakthrough, a moment that you made it,” Dylan Gilbert said. “All the time and effort that has taken place over the past years [has] ended, but also [commencement] is a mark of a new beginning.”

At the end of spring quarter 2021, all three Gilberts will be attending commencement as graduating students. Unfortunately, the news that commencement would be virtual this year temporarily dashed their celebration dreams.

“I was disappointed, of course, because we were really looking forward to it. But then [I] followed that up with recognizing that there is so much else going on in the world than my personal life,” Meghan Gilbert said. “[I] recognized why the decision was made and I felt okay about it because they are making the right decision overall.”

Her brother, Dylan Gilbert, didn’t necessarily agree that commencement needed to be virtual.

“I felt a sense of emptiness because the build-up and what you have been working towards for so long is now just a zoom meeting. The endgame is kind of anti-climatic,” Dylan Gilbert said. “Logically, I am not even sure if it is the right decision because there [are] ways that it could [have] been done while keeping safe with [COVID-19] guidelines. TV productions have been figuring out how to produce these shows [live] and if Hollywood can do it, [CWU] can.” 

However, Dylan Gilbert is refusing to let the virtual commencement take away the celebration of his achievement.

“On the flip side, [a] celebration is a celebration and I am glad the milestone is achieved and able to be celebrated in some form,” Dylan Gilbert said.

Jamie Gilbert agreed with both of her kids and said she wondered if CWU could have followed the example of a local high school and their social distanced ceremony they held last year.

“It’s disappointing that in over a year and a half, [the administration] could not come up with another way,” Jamie Gilbert said. “Especially since they have students on campus and they didn’t offer another solution.”

The Gilberts still plan to dress in their gowns and celebrate their achievements together as a family.

“I am not going to complain whether I get to walk. We are going to re-define what that looks like,” Jamie Gilbert said. “We’re going to get our gowns, we’re going to do pictures together, and we’re going to celebrate. You don’t have to let the milestone go by just because a ceremony wasn’t held. We can make our own ceremony.”