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Thousands of Dollars Later, a Zoom Graduation

By Emily Cortes

If 2020 wasn’t already the worst year for so many across the The University of Tampa community and globally, 2021 just became darkened for the graduating class. Since last year’s 2020 commencement was moved to a virtual platform, the rising seniors felt relief that it was not their graduation that was being taken away, yet that is becoming a reality.

On Thursday, Feb. 18, the university announced their plans to move the Saturday, May 8, 2021 commencement virtually. Their email to students and parents began with a long winded reminiscence on the continuing struggle COVID-19 has brought the the world. Their reasoning is cited in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) COVID-19 guidelines, and states that “… the University could not realistically host a safe – yet meaningful – academic celebration.”

Students have speculated that the school simply doesn’t want to plan a socially distanced graduation, while others assume it’s the cost. Senior marketing major and president of the UT skydiving club, Brian Farrell, expressed his opinions on the 2021 virtual commencement. 

“I personally believe that hosting graduation online is a way for the school to save money. The school lacks consistency over the last few months in terms of COVID-19 restrictions by hosting on campus parades by the Hillsborough River, yet they say they cannot host a safe graduation,” said Farrell. “Students have paid tens of thousands of dollars to attend the university and deserve to be rewarded for their hard work. It is overall, hypocritical, to say that you can host in-person classes yet there is ‘no realistic way’ to have a graduation outdoors safely. Lastly, those that do not feel fit to attend in person simply don’t have to. I’m pretty disappointed.”

Other students had a much stronger reaction to the updated commencement plans. 

“The school administration’s decision is nothing more than a scientific virtue signaling a total lack of effort and creativity to adapt to this environment that we’ve spent the last 12 months in,” said John Rodd, senior marketing major. “The hypocrisy is downright insulting, having thousands of people gather on campus for the Super Bowl parade, but not allowing some kind of socially distanced event where students can simply walk across a raised platform to receive their degree. It makes me sick that despite all the tuition dollars I’ve paid, the school is happy to ignore science and the feelings of its students. Additionally, by May you will likely be turning away countless proud family members that have already received their vaccination.”

The school’s intention of keeping COVID-19 cases low, protecting the Spartan community, their families, and the larger community of Tampa seems great in hindsight. Yet, when the school allows for students to gather in Plant Park for the Super Bowl boat parade and makes in-person class attendance mandatory, students have a difficult time understanding which guidelines they, too, must follow. 

Considering the current state of reopening, or remaining open since May 2020, students don’t understand why it’s acceptable for them to go to restaurants off campus, or spend their weekends crawling South Howard Ave., but can’t celebrate four years of hard work with their classmates and families.

Although COVID-19 runs rampant throughout the country, many people from across the nation have been flying into Tampa to escape the winter and the lockdowns in many states. This, most likely, won’t be any different come the weekend of May 8. Even though there will not be a physical graduation ceremony to attend, some families plan to fly down to support their graduates and enjoy the freedom Florida has to offer. 

As a senior graduating this spring, I never viewed graduation as a “big deal.” You walk across a stage in a cap and gown, get your diploma, shake someone’s hand, and then you sit down and watch the remaining 2,000 other graduates have their 60 seconds of recognition. I don’t have this sense of urgency to attend a ceremony to celebrate my personal achievements, but after speaking with my mother and fellow classmates, my understanding changed.

For many people, the goals they set for themselves are difficult to achieve, and when you work four years and spend a lot of money to reach that goal, you feel entitled to recognition. A lot of students may have felt during their undergraduate degree that they were not going to make it to graduation, or the amount of work and money required pushed their goal of completion further back. 

No matter how long it took you to get to your final semester, understand that whether you walk across the stage, or your name rolls across a screen, you are a graduate of The University of Tampa’s class of 2021. Your achievements are not weighted by a formal ceremony, and even though COVID-19 was a blow to us all, it didn’t ruin our graduation. It made us resilient through the process, and allowed us to adapt to our lives as working adults. Isn’t that the reason we attended college in the first place?

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