By Barbara Kay
An alumnus made a petition to get the 2020 and 2021 classes in-person commencement ceremonies after posting on the Facebook open forum and discovering the school had tweeted they would be invited to walk at this year’s commencement, which they weren’t.
“I appreciated the virtual ceremony in lieu of the physical one in the meantime,” said Chynah Winter, a fall 2020 graduate. “However with COVID restrictions lifting, other schools allowed the pandemic grads to walk. It’s like we’re the hidden classes of Purchase.”
Winter posted on the school’s open forum about an in-person commencement for the classes of 2020 and 2021 on May 19.
Through the post’s comments, she discovered that Purchase’s official Twitter account tweeted in October that the two classes would be invited to walk at this year’s commencement.
The Office of Communications & Creative Services, which oversees Purchase’s social media, did not return this reporter’s inquiries as to who may have published this Tweet and what the graduation plans may have been at the time.
Winter emailed the commencement team; the president’s office; Keisha Martin, director of conference planning; and Milly Peña, the college’s president, concerning prospective ideas for an in-person ceremony.
“When appointed, the new director of alumni engagement will be charged with creating a memorable and celebratory event/ceremony for the classes of 2020 and 2021,” responded Martin.
The position won’t be filled until Amanda Walker, the new vice president of institutional advancements, appointment begins July 7, 2022.
“The new Vice President for Institutional Advancement, Amanda Walker, will begin her tenure early in July,” said Carrie Bianchi, executive assistant to the president. “I am confident that with Ms. Walker at the helm of the Advancement office, our alumni engagement activities will be back on track.”
Winter made a Google Form and a Change.org petition, which has gained 330 signatures and eight comments voicing why an in-person ceremony is important to them.
“Originally I was hoping to reach a minimum of 500 signatures so I could email the president, the dean, and other relevant figures that have a say in the commencement ceremony,” said Winter. “I’m hoping the petition would put the pressure on the school to act quickly and efficiently because waiting on a director of Alumni Engagement tells me that the main priority isn’t on giving students a timely engagement, it’s appointing someone to handle it.”
“I need this for my family,” wrote petition signer Kristen Manchenton. “I deserve this.”
“Everybody deserves a little recognition after their hard work,” wrote another signer, Majesty Blanding.
May 2020 graduate, Franny Sebastiano, used an alias to email the school in fear of being ignored.
“I made a different email and pretended to be a concerned parent because I thought they would just brush me off if I said I was the student,” she said. “I’m the first in my family to go to college let alone graduate so walking has always been a dream and a big milestone that I don’t know I’ll ever get.”
In a response to the email, Martin said, “The class of 2020 did have a commencement ceremony. It was virtual, but it was an official ceremony with the conferring of degrees.”
“We have discussed creative ways to celebrate the class of 2020 and plan to revisit them when a new director of alumni engagement is appointed,” Martin continued.
While official, Stephanie Poborsky, a May 2021 graduate, said, “It felt like I never graduated.”
According to some 2021 graduates, names were misspelled and read on the wrong slide during the virtual presentation. Students from the class of 2021 who chose to walk across the stage said they were left to do so without family or friends present because of the COVID safety precautions that were in place at the time.
“I thought those virtual videos were cute, but if you chose to include a photo or message, it only showed up on one major and not both,” said Fiona Feltman, a May 2021 graduate, who double majored in arts management and communications.
“In my opinion,” Poborsky said, “They should have separated the grads and invited them to [spring 2022] graduation or held graduation throughout a couple of days.”
Although there is no current headway for an in-person ceremony, Alumni Weekend will be taking place from Sept. 30 through Oct. 10.
“Planning is underway for alumni weekend in the fall, and it is the understanding of the president’s office that the classes of 2020 and 2021 will be honored at events during the alumni weekend,” said Bianchi.
Alumni Weekend has a provisional schedule that is mostly “brainwork,” according to Stacy Leistner, a consultant with the Alumni Association.