Opinion – Virtual commencement is the right move given the situation

For most graduates, a commencement ceremony is the culmination of their collegiate efforts; it’s a pivotal opportunity to celebrate an accomplishment that took years of time and dedication as well as thousands of dollars. On March 26, a campus wide email regarding commencement ceremonies during the COVID-19 pandemic stated the following: “Portland State University will transition to virtual commencement ceremonies at all schools and colleges in June as part of our ongoing efforts to ensure the health and safety of students, their families, friends and the greater community.”


So what does this mean for this year’s commencement ceremonies? PSU was not clear about what virtual commencement ceremonies will entail and encourages students to submit their ideas about the matter online. However, it’s difficult to imagine a virtual ceremony replicating the pomp and circumstance of last year’s commencement25,000 people across six commencement ceremonies at both the Viking Pavilion and Moda Center. For this reason, some students set to graduate at the end of spring term have expressed their dissatisfaction on Facebook.


One user commented, “this is unfair. The ceremony should be postponed. I deserve to walk across that stage. I do not want to sit in my room and participate in a virtual ceremony, that’s a joke. Memories are not meant to be made behind a computer screen and this is not how I want to remember one of the biggest accomplishments in my life.”


It’s true earning one’s college degree is a momentous achievement and it’s true a virtual ceremony in lieu of walking across a stage is unfair, but commencement pales in comparison to the severity of the situation in which humanity currently finds itself. If college graduation is one of the biggest accomplishments in one’s life, then an even bigger accomplishment is to flatten the curve of COVID-19 cases to well within the capacity of the United States medical system, saving lives in the process. Graduating students may deserve to walk, but people deserve to live.


There is currently a petition to forgo the virtual commencement and postpone the ceremony to fall of 2020, but fall is still too soon to determine if it is safe to hold a gathering of potentially 25,000 people. The situation surrounding the COVID-19 virus changes daily. Less than a month ago the virus was a distant concern, and now Oregon is under a stay-at-home order in an effort to keep from overwhelming medical personnel. It’s also possible, after slowing down during the summer months, to have a resurgence of COVID-19 much like the 1918 influenza—which halted in the warm, summer months, but resurged in a second wave in the fall, killing 195,000 Americans in October alone. Unfortunately, there is too much uncertainty regarding the future state of the virus to simply postpone commencement.


Another user commented, “PSU is taking away the opportunity for many first generation students (plus veterans, and non-traditional students) to walk across the stage and proudly tell their family ‘I did it.’”


While there probably won’t be a stage to walk across at the virtual commencement, PSU is neither taking away anyone’s opportunity to be proud of their accomplishments nor taking away the opportunity to say to family and friends, “I did it.” If one graduates from college then one has earned this opportunity. Rather, PSU is taking responsible and appropriate action to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on our community and that is something everyone should be proud of.