Webster University announced the 2020 commencement ceremony would be held online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Students have started a petition to postpone the event instead.
Graduation was going to be a special event for senior Tanner Craft and his family. Craft was diagnosed with autism at four years old. The doctor told his family he probably would not be able to live on his own as an adult. Now, Craft is the first in his family to graduate from college.
But on March 19, Webster University announced the Class of 2020 commencement ceremony would be held online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Craft and many others quickly protested the decision on Facebook and urged the university to consider postponement instead.
“I was immediately upset. I honestly felt insulted by the notion,” Craft said. “It’s nowhere anywhere close to a real substitute for the ceremony.”
Craft thought others would agree, so he created an online petition to postpone the ceremony. He explained the decision affects both students and families.
“I just immediately made a petition, so we could all voice our displeasure with the decision,” Craft said.
Over 760 people have signed the petition so far. Senior Andy Compton is a friend of Craft’s who signed the petition. Like Craft, Compton is a first-generation college student.
Compton almost did not go to college. Neither of his older brothers went, and he did not decide to further his education until he was 26 years old. For his family, graduation was a special event, Compton said.
“To have it downplayed into essentially graduating over Skype just felt a little ridiculous,” Compton said. “It’s just kind of a bummer.”
The university decided to move the commencement ceremony online as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold.
“As we have for the past 100 years, Webster University will recognize our graduates for their persistence and success,” the university wrote in an online statement. “While circumstances prohibit gathering together in a physical space, technology allows the University to unite virtually.”
Senior Olivia White was also disappointed by Webster’s announcement. White is not the first in her family to attend college, but she worked through many financial obstacles to get to graduation.
She described her family as working class, so she had to work hard for scholarships to be able to attend. When she made it into college, White worked several jobs and took 15 to 18 credit hours each semester to graduate on time.
“I know for a lot of people, including me, it’s kind of a rite of passage,” White said. “It feels like it has been stolen from us. Like maybe it’s kind of selfish, but I just really wanted to be able to have that celebration with all of my classmates and with my family.”
Compton felt as though a virtual ceremony was not enough given the amount of work and money many students have put into college. After a friend shared the announcement with him, Compton initially laughed. He felt as though the university was not considering the desires of students and their families.
While Compton was shocked and saddened about the postponement, he understands the university is in a difficult situation.
“They probably don’t want to do this either. It’s a crazy situation that we’re all going through. Everyone’s kind of learning together how we’re gonna get through this.” Compton said.
Craft also understood the challenges the university has had to face with the COVID-19 pandemic. He still hopes, however, the university will work with students to postpone the graduation. Compton and White share this hope.
“I think our class would just be happy to have hope to hold on to because right now everything is so uncertain and then taking this away from us, it just kind of makes everyone feel displaced,” White said. “So I would really hope that they reconsider.”
While he recognized this is a difficult time for the university, Compton felt as though many seniors would be willing to be patient.
“I think that it’s worth it to the class of 2020 to take the time to figure this thing out,” Compton said.
As always, this is a changing situation that The Journal is dedicated to reporting on. We will continue to update our community as often as possible.