A virtual commencement ceremony will be held on May 17 for the class of 2020. It is not a replacement for the traditional graduation, which has been postponed. (Roshan Giyanani/B&W Staff)

Virtual commencement ceremony for the class of 2020 to be held May 17

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A virtual celebration will be held for the class of 2020 on May 17 at 1 p.m. EDT as an opportunity to recognize graduating seniors for their accomplishments at Lehigh and officially confer their degrees. 

This celebration is not a replacement for the traditional in-person commencement ceremony, which has been postponed to a later date, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Though participation in the virtual celebration is not mandatory, graduating seniors will be honored for their academic achievements and officially welcomed into Lehigh’s alumni community.

The celebration will feature video messages from senior leadership and the Lehigh community and celebratory notes for the graduating seniors, Lindsay Lebresco, marketing director in University Communications, said in an email. 

Students, alumni, graduates and their families will all have the opportunity to attend the hour-long celebration, which will not require prior registration.

Rhiannon Accetta, ‘20, Alexis Tellez, ‘20, and Jake Zebaida, ‘20, all said this is not the graduation they had envisioned for themselves, but each of them also said they would consider attending the virtual celebration.

Accetta said she feels as though the changes surrounding graduation make the occasion less meaningful.

“The sentiment of graduating is definitely taken away through the online ceremony,” Accetta said. “You don’t get to be with your graduating class and all of your family.”

Since the virtual celebration is optional, not every graduating senior will be present. Scheduling and travel conflicts may also prevent seniors’ families from attending, Tellez said.

As a first-generation college student, Tellez said she was looking forward to seeing her family experience a college graduation for the first time. However, because her family works many hours per week, it would be difficult for everyone to get together to watch a virtual celebration, she said. 

“It’s really sad,” Tellez said. “I would be the first person in my family to walk across a college stage.”

Zebaida said graduation is more important for his family than it is for himself. His parents and grandparents were looking forward to seeing him receive his diploma in person, he said. 

Although the postponed ceremony will give seniors and their families the opportunity to come together in person, not everyone will be able to attend. Accetta, Tellez and Zebaida all said they hope to be there, but many seniors — themselves included — will be entering the workforce or continuing their education, making it difficult for some of them to return to Lehigh for commencement.

“It’s not a matter of whether I want to attend (the postponed ceremony), it’s a matter of whether I’m able to,” Zebaida said. “It’s going to be my second or third month working by then, so I don’t know if taking off work will be a possibility for me.”

Accetta said she hopes the postponed ceremony takes place sooner rather than later. If in-person commencement is next spring,  it might feel out of place because almost a year will have passed at that point, she said.

Regardless of when the in-person ceremony takes place, Tellez said she is glad Lehigh made the decision to push back graduation, rather than canceling it. She said it will give seniors a sense of closure, despite the fact their final year was cut short.

While Accetta, Tellez and Zebaida are all disheartened about their graduation and short-lived senior year, Zebaida said it was not realistic for a traditional graduation to take place.

“It’s important to put things in perspective,” Zebaida said. “We’re not living in normal circumstances right now so, much as we would like to have a traditional graduation, it’s not going to be a reality.”

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