Lehigh’s traditional graduation ceremony is postponed for the Class of 2020. At the end of May, a virtual ceremony will take its place to award degrees. (Roshan Giyanani/B&W Staff)

Commencement plans disrupted in wake of coronavirus

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As the pandemic has paused communities around the globe, college seniors across the country are left wondering the fate of their commencement and final undergraduate experiences.

Lehigh University has informed its students that an online conferral of degrees will be held to honor the culmination of the class of 2020. The traditional graduation ceremony has been postponed until further notice. 

“At this point in our lives, graduating is by far our greatest achievement,” said Zoe Kravitz, ‘20. 

Kravitz said for herself and many of her senior peers, the sudden drastic change in their academic routine has been devastating.

Julia Pardee, ‘21, the president of Student Senate, said the conferral of degrees is still being held near its original date for legal reasons.

“(This method) is intended for the legal aspect that the Department of Education requires to say that the class of 2020 has met the requirements and can be considered graduating,” Pardee said. 

Pardee said she is impressed with how seniors are handling this devastating time, and she thinks there is some degree of hope that a physical commencement ceremony will be held in the future — where everyone can be together to celebrate. 

The main struggle seniors faced with the news of second semester changes brought by the coronavirus was the uncertainty of the situation, Kravitz said. 

“We thought we had a couple months left,” Kravitz said. “Very quickly, everyone left, and we don’t know if or when we will all be together again.” 

Alongside President John Simon and his staff, a small cohort of Student Senate members selected by Pardee will be working together to plan when the two-part graduation, both online and in person, will be held. 

Pardee said the group of Senate members will include a senior student from each of the three colleges, and one senior varsity athlete, to best voice the questions, concerns and opinions from their class.

“The way that I would hope to see it go, is that we are given time to reach out to our friends, our peers, and talk to other members of the class to see what they want,” said Evan Chansky, ‘20, who is one of the four Student Senate members working with Simon to plan the two events.

The process of planning the in-person ceremony will begin after Simon and his office collect data on the senior class’s preferences for the event. The commencement organizing team will also have to wait until a clearer reopening date for Pennsylvania and the country is announced.

Kravitz said some Lehigh seniors are still in Bethlehem, trying to salvage the few parts of their last semester while in quarantine. She said when the weather is nice, off-campus students occupy their lawns and wave to each other in passing. 

“It is really sad to not have our final months together and not be able to do all the things we planned to do,” Kravitz said, “Everyone not being here (on campus), will make graduation even more memorable.”

While this year’s graduation has taken a form no one expected, the most important part for the Student Senate members planning the ceremony is to get all the seniors together, one more time.

Chansky said he hopes there is a high number of people in attendance at the event, so everyone can still have the opportunity to celebrate their achievements. 

For students not staying near campus in the spring, their final semester has come to an abrupt stop in various ways.

“There are a lot of goodbyes I haven’t done with people,” Chansky said. “I have gotten to say goodbye to some of my close friends over Zoom, but it is the fringe friends that you see walking to class or just around that I haven’t really gotten the chance to say goodbye to.”

Updates related to the 2020 commencement updates will be posted to the Lehigh website.  

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