Commencement ceremony goes virtual, seniors left wondering why

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The graduating class of 2021 will not be walking across the stage at The Muny for their commencement ceremony this year. The decision, made by the university, has left the seniors upset and curious.

Part of the reason Abby Anderson chose to go to Webster four years ago was the graduation ceremony at the Muny. So, when she opened Facebook on Feb. 25, she was disappointed to see Webster had posted an announcement: there would be no in-person ceremony at The Muny for the 2021 graduates.

“It feels horrible to see the news on Facebook first and to see so many other larger schools having ceremonies for their grads in safe ways,” Anderson said. 

The university’s statement cited the restriction of large gatherings in the St. Louis area as the reason for moving the ceremony online. 

Anderson commented on the post, criticizing the university for posting the statement on Facebook instead of emailing graduates first. Anderson also pointed out the university was holding in-person classes and The Muny will be putting on shows during their summer season. Anderson’s comments were similar to that of student Catherine Boren, a senior secondary education social science major.

“I am very mad about their decision. I get last year was very different because we didn’t know much about COVID,” Boren said. “However, now I feel they’re playing it too safe by saying no [in-person] graduation at all. Especially since high schools held graduations last year who had a bigger graduating class than we did.”

Boren started a petition citing these reasons and the fact that another tier for vaccinations

will open in mid-March. Her petition calls for Webster to re-evaluate its decision closer to May or for the commencement ceremony to be pushed off until the summer after more vaccinations have happened. 

This is what graduation will look like again this year at Webster University. The university decided that the commencement ceremony will be virtual, similar to 2020’s ceremony. In a statement, the university said it’s working on “enhanced features” for this year’s graduates. Photo by Charlotte Renner.

“Us seniors have already been through enough, having to go our entire senior year through this pandemic, don’t take our graduation from us as well,” Boren wrote in the petition.

Boren and Anderson both suggested the university consider breaking the ceremony up by school and holding the event outdoors with attendees wearing masks.

This is similar to the approach Mizzou will be taking. Its 2020 graduates will kick off festivities the last weekend of April, hosting the first ceremony. The following two weekends will be dedicated to the 2021 graduates. 

Missouri State University will follow a similar procedure, according to its website. It will be hosting two ceremonies, staggering graduate ceremonies at different times and days. Attendees will be required to wear masks.

Northwest Missouri State University offered its graduates three options: participate in one of two ceremonies held on May 7 and 8 with a cap of 175 graduates and two guests per graduate; participate in a ceremony held in the fall of 2021; or, not participate in graduation and have the university mail their graduation items such as their diploma and regalia. 

The University of Missouri – St. Louis (UMSL) and Maryville University will also be holding virtual ceremonies.  Saint Louis University and Washington Univ

Graphic by Kenzie Akins.

A representative for Webster directed The Journal to the statement the university made when asked about the decision-making process and suggestions the students had brought up.

Webster junior William Legens agrees with the university’s decision to move the graduation online.

“I think it is the safe decision. It saves, most importantly, people from risk of getting sick, but also it saves Webster from liability,” Legens said.

Kaleigh Finney graduated in December but was planning to attend commencement in May. She agreed with  Boren and Anderson, saying the university has different options to work out graduation and feels like the university didn’t look into it enough. 

The statement by the university said the administration has been monitoring the situation in anticipation for the virtual ceremony and “[has] been monitoring local conditions and public health restrictions amid the pandemic, while also pursuing contingency plans to hold an online-only ceremony, as took place for the 101st Commencement in May 2020.” 

However, senior Samuel Wobbe said he does not understand why the ceremony could not be outdoors.

“By May, lots of people will have had the vaccine and they usually have it at the Muny if I’m not mistaken. Masks on, seats between families, departments split up and outside? Feels doable,” Wobbe said.

“It just seems strange at this point not to do it, considering all we know and the way that COVID is trending. I’m kind of sad that I won’t be getting a traditional graduation or photos while most of my friends from other schools will. Especially when it seems solvable.”

In a press statement, St. Louis County said it wants to vaccinate roughly 10,000 people a week if given enough doses. This would put the county at roughly 100,000 doses by the day of the commencement ceremony.

Boren argues Missouri cases have seen a decline, as well as St. Louis County cases. December 2020 saw a high of 1,004 cases, while February has only seen a high of 301 new cases reported. Legens said there are too many unknowns at this point in the pandemic.

“We have no idea how the future of the pandemic will play out,” Legens said. “Will the vaccines work? Will enough people have the vaccine by then? Will there be a second strain? Unfortunately, pandemics don’t last for a couple of months like some people wishfully think but can last a couple [of] years.”

Finney, however, argues that the unknowns are exactly why Webster should not have announced the move to a virtual setting yet.

“I want the school to understand how we feel as students,” Finney said. “We’ve worked ourselves to the bone. Most of us [are] working multiple jobs just to afford Webster and now, months in advance, they’re deciding to cancel the one thing we deserve to have to celebrate, even though the current situation could change at any moment.”

Editor’s note: The PDF version of this article said the university decided about graduation due to St. Louis county COVID-19 regulations. The university’s statement said “St. Louis area.” This article has been updated to reflect the statement correctly. We apologize for any confusion we may have caused.

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I like to write, a lot. I mainly focus in the news and lifestyle sections. When I'm not writing, I'm hanging out with my nephews, reading or binging a Netflix show. I have a really cool dog named Harper, too. She's the cutest.