This coming May, Lehigh will hold in-person commencement ceremonies to honor both the graduating class of 2021 and recently conferred class of 2020. (Roshan Giyanani/B&W Staff)

Seniors and class of 2020 graduates share thoughts on in-person commencement

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This coming May, Lehigh will be holding in-person commencement ceremonies to honor both the graduating class of 2021 and the recently conferred class of 2020.

The ceremony for the class of 2020 will take place at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 22 at Goodman Stadium, and the class of 2021 ceremony will follow on Monday, May 24. 

Sophia Closter, ‘21, said while her parents doubted whether graduation would be held in person, she never considered otherwise. Closter is looking forward to getting together with her class for the first time since freshman year.

“I remember during orientation they always say, ‘you and your whole class will convene three times. Two of them will be during orientation, and the third will be at graduation,’” Closter said. 

Hillary Winoker, ‘21, is also excited to celebrate her hard work beside her family and friends. 

Winoker said she looks forward to having an in-person commencement because of how many events have had to be modified or canceled.  

“After all that’s changed with this year and this semester, it’s a little bit of normalcy that I’m excited about,” Winoker said. 

Zach Ross, ‘21, said that graduating in person is much more sentimental than a virtual ceremony. 

“It will be nice to get pictures with my friends and actually remember graduating in person,” Ross said. 

International student Jorgo Tesfa, ‘21, said the in-person ceremony holds special weight for him and other students who have been away from family for a while. 

“I understand the sacrifices that have been made, so being (in person) makes it more real and more sentimental,” Tesfa said. 

For the class of 2020, this in-person celebration will be quite different from last year’s virtual ceremony.

After her final semester was abruptly cut short due to COVID-19,  Julia Lipman, ‘20, was disappointed by the lack of effort Lehigh put into her class’s virtual graduation last spring. 

Lipman said she and a few friends gathered together to watch the online ceremony, expecting something special. She said they were surprised when the virtual ceremony lasted only around 30 minutes, and her and her classmates’ names were not even displayed on the screen. 

Jason Taitz, ‘20, agreed with Lipman that last year’s graduation ceremony felt impersonal. He said the faculty went department by department, saying something along the lines of “we are so sad we can’t be together in person, but we’re so proud of you.” 

Having graduated nearly a year ago, Lipman said many of her classmates have moved on to graduate school and full-time jobs, and already feel fairly removed from Lehigh. 

Despite this, Lipman said she is excited to reunite with her class, whether it be with her best friends or people she hasn’t seen since graduating. 

“Being back on Lehigh’s campus graduating is something that we all wished for, and that we’re finally able to get,” Lipman said. 

Taitz agreed. 

“I really don’t care all that much about what they do at the ceremony,” Taitz said. “I’m just excited to see my friends.”

With May still far down the road, Tesfa is not letting himself get too excited about the announcement. Tesfa said there are many pros and cons to having commencement in person and virtually, and it is important to still consider that we are in a pandemic. 

“In these times, anything could change at any point,” Tesfa said. “So a month later the news might be different.”

Ellie Falk, ‘21, similarly acknowledged the coronavirus risks, but said she thinks as long as people distance and wear their masks properly, the outdoor commencement will be safe.  

As a COVID-19 safety measure, Lehigh will be permitting two guests per student. Falk said this decision could make it difficult for students to decide which loved ones to bring, specifically for first-generation students. 

“My mom was a first-generation college graduate and it was really exciting for her family when their kids graduated from college, so that is something to think about,” Falk said. 

Tesfa agreed with Falk, but acknowledged that anything greater than the two-person limit could be riskier.

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