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Zooming Out: Virtual Graduation

Updated: Apr 29, 2021

by Leah Dwyer

(Graphic made by Diana Gilday)

Graduation this year, like everything else, is going to look a little more virtual than it ever has before.

Purchase College is holding a Zoom graduation for the May 2021 ceremony with the only in-person option being booking a one-minute time slot to walk across the podium and take a picture with the school’s president, Milagros Peña.

“It’s pretty disappointing honestly,” said Colin Bateman, a graduating sociology major. “To have 4 years of hard work capped off by a massive Zoom call in my room.”

“Purchase is trying its best to make sure everyone’s safe,” said Natalie Turner, a graduating classical vocal performance major. “But it’s such a letdown.”

The graduating students have appeared to take the news in stride, expressing relief that the school is taking the pandemic seriously. However, they believe other safe options were available. A general consensus was made, why couldn’t the school make use of the Great Lawn?

“That seems like an obvious option,” said Bateman. “To have it outdoors.”

Students voiced their own suggestions, allowing only vaccinated guests, limiting the number of guests, breaking down the ceremony into smaller groups.

Students who do not live locally, like Mona Sewell, a graduating arts management major from Minneapolis, want an opportunity to see friends and professors for the last time.

“[Aside from the one-minute time slot] I’m not aware of any other in-person activities so I think there should be more things like that,” Sewell said. “Normally, there is a whole week of fun activities for seniors if I’m not mistaken. So, I think the school should give us more optional event opportunities.”

Even students who have been on campus wish for a warmer graduation.

“I wish there were more communal aspects of graduation,” said Turner. “Having it over Zoom is going to make it seem so impersonal.”

Samantha Schnupp, a graduating sociology major, understands the precaution being taken, adding a quick cliché, “better safe than sorry.” She just wishes the school took the time to ask the graduating class for their opinion.

“It seems like a lot of decisions were made by the town or the board of administration,” Schnupp said. “Asking the class would have been nice. It would’ve shown that our voices were semi-heard at least.”

Each of the four graduating seniors feel frustration over ending their college careers with a quick and final farewell over Zoom. Turner recalled her brother’s graduation.

“I remember how wonderful my brother’s college graduation was,” she said. “I hate that mine's over Zoom.”

Carrie K. Bianchi,m the Assistant to the President and a member of the Commencement Committee when asked about why graduation was online said "We so wish we could have returned to our in-person ceremony- nothing would have made us happier. However, the facility we use - the Westchester County Center in White Plains is a NY State Vaccination site. Our facilities here on campus, both indoors [the PAC] and outdoors [different lawn/field locations], are not equipped to handle the number of attendees in either a socially distanced environment acceptable to CDC regulations, nor do we have outdoor facilities that would be ADA compliant for such large numbers."

With their last weeks as students upon them, the graduating seniors look back on what it was like having their last semester online. The general feeling was that of disappointment after their time at Purchase. These feelings were expressed through words like robbed, cheated, and depressing.

“I feel cheated out of the college experience. The most notable part about graduating during the pandemic for me is not feeling like I have closure,” said Sewell. “I didn’t get to see friends and teachers one last time or do a lot of things in New York that I had planned.”

“My friend group slowly grew apart because of the pandemic,” said Turner. “Nothing feels the same. The overall energy of the campus is just depressing.”

“I feel a bit robbed of a senior year. I’m missing out on a lot of events and fun things that should have happened in my senior year,” said Bateman. “But it is what it is.”

“I feel like I’m just trying to get through it just to graduate at this point rather than enjoy my last semester of college,” said Schnupp.

Bianchi sympathized with the seniors, saying "Yes, this moment is disappointing in that we can’t all celebrate together. But, the class of 2021, through their resolve in supporting one another over these past 15 months, have shown that they can even overcome a pandemic. Some day in the future we hope that this will be one of their memories that resonates most loudly."

Schnupp, in addition to losing her last semester in person, also lost her last season on the Purchase swim team. Schnupp said, “Emotionally, this last year has made me feel like I left unfinished.”

To these graduates, a Zoom graduation is the proper ending to what has turned out to be a year of virtual disaster.

“Everyone looks forward to senior year,” said Turner. “But it’s like we got all the negatives of senior year and none of the positives.”



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