OPINION: A senior's reaction to the 2021 commencement decision

By Cami Hughes | February 28, 2021 9:35am
Cami Hughes is a senior sociology and psychology major. Photo courtesy of Cami Hughes.

As I read the news that the class of 2021’s commencement would be held online, I was flooded with a mix of emotions, like many of my fellow seniors. I gathered in my living room with five other seniors and we all shared our mix of emotions and what this commencement ceremony meant for us. We felt anger, sadness, and immense frustration as we processed the news. After sitting with our emotions for a day, I am now filled with more questions as to how this decision was made. There are issues in what Fr. Poorman wrote to us in his email regarding the process and steps taken by the committee, specifically as to who was involved and how they feel there is no possibility to hold an in person ceremony.

It’s written in that email that seniors were included in the decision and that “the committee worked diligently to gather student input.” However, as much as I can gather, there were only two seniors on the committee. As a sociology major, I know that two seniors cannot accurately represent the entire senior population’s opinions and this sampling method would not be approved in any educational sector. In addition, there was never a period for seniors to voice their opinions regarding the potential of an online graduation ceremony, so I am forced to believe that the committee did not actually work diligently to gather opinions and did not care about what the senior class had to say. A simple survey could have been sent to the senior class, but this was never done.

Furthermore, Fr. Poorman wrote in this email that “this news may come as a disappointment to some,” which minimizes the impact that this decision has made on the senior classes’ final semester at University of Portland. Our voices have been effectively silenced in this situation, and to simply state that this is a disappointment widely discredits us and our feelings. We are being denied a rite of passage that has the potential to still occur. 

Purdue University, which has a student population 10 times the University of Portland, has already announced their plans to hold an outdoor ceremony on May 15. Even Notre Dame, our sister school of whom we seem to mirror their decisions, also has plans to hold a ceremony with a limited number of guests. 

So why can’t we, a much smaller university, take advice from these institution’s decisions and hold an outdoor ceremony with a limited number of guests? We also have ample outdoor space with the potential to hold an event at Merlo Field, or any of the various dormitory or academic quads on campus. So what is stopping us from using those resources?

Finally, while us seniors have been mourning the end of our college experience, and trying to come to terms with our college careers ending on a random Friday in March, 2020, new students are being celebrated on campus. Rapid tests were given to the over 800 students and parents that were moving in this semester, and they were not allowed into their dorms without a negative test result. Can this not be done for a graduation ceremony that is likely to have a smaller group size? 

In addition, the school’s contact tracing and preventative measures have been proven effective, as our outbreaks have been small compared to other universities. We have the tools available to hold a socially distanced and masked commencement event.

With all these facts being considered, I am left to feel that I am just a source of tuition money to this university and not a valued member of the University of Portland community. Our tuition prices have been raised as we have been switched into online instruction and have experienced a decrease in the quality of education given to us. The professors at our university are incredible and have adjusted well to the change of instruction, but it is impossible to create the same quality of teaching through a screen.

All we ask is for transparency and consideration from the institution that we have dedicated our lives to over the past few years. To finish with one phrase that has been commented on University of Portland’s Instagram page in regards to this decision, "shame on UP."

Cami Hughes is a senior sociology and psychology major. She can be reached at hughes22@up.edu.

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