Opinion – A virtual commencement is no commencement at all

Fellow 2020 seniors and Portland State students,

By now, I’m sure we’ve all heard the news about the decision to hold a virtual commencement ceremony for the class of 2020. Petitions are all over social media and outrage is in the air—rightfully so. We deserve better.  

To be honest, personally, I’m not terribly opposed to avoiding a day spent with all my relatives in a sweaty venue with a thousand other people. However, this is not only about me. 

For many people, a college graduation ceremony is a milestone they will never experience again. Graduates come in all forms: parents, first-generation grads, transfer students as well as the traditional four-year graduate. We all have one thing in common; we worked hard, paid a shitload of money and deserve a day to recognize our achievements before the inevitable realizations of paying off student debt and finding a job set in. 

PSU is home to the most diverse group of students in Oregon. PSU takes pride in the fact that 37% of students are first-generation college students and according to their website, the average student age is 27. These groups are traditionally less likely to graduate and holding a virtual commencement only downplays their achievement. 

This day is not only for the graduates, but also for friends and family. For many, these people raised, supported and pushed us to pursue a degree in the first place. They deserve a day to celebrate and witness the results of their efforts. 

I understand some of the reasons for the decision. We are in the middle of a global pandemic. However, no one is asking for a hard date or is pressuring the administration to hold an event that may potentially kill our elderly relatives. I hope I speak for many when I say no one wants that. 

All we want is a postponement: no promises, only that the ceremony will be held when it is safe to do so. Considering the time, effort and money we have put into this, it doesn’t seem like an unreasonable request. PSU owes graduates a formal event that recognizes our achievements in a public way. Oh, and they can more than afford it. 

I saved you the time of tediously looking through the PSU budget. Commencement is classified as “Designated Operations—Fees charged for external activities, non-credit programs, workshops, community service programs, conferences and related.” In 2018–19, the budget for this category was $9,284,364. Yeah, read it again. Nine million dollars. 

Every other major event that was supposed to happen has been postponed: Democratic primaries, the Olympics, even Coachella. Let’s be real—we’re already graduating into a failing, post-pandemic economy—most of us will never be able to afford to go to Coachella. Tangent aside, this is our major event, and we too deserve a postponement.

Quarantine is lonely. It’s sad and isolating. When I think of graduating from college by staring at a screen alone after years of hard work, it’s even more isolating. I probably wouldn’t even tune in to the virtual graduation because the thought is so depressing.

So students, keep fighting. Know your worth and know that we should get the ceremony we deserve, just like every other college graduate. And PSU—do better. 

Good luck asking for my alumni donations in 10 years.