Graduating seniors, class of 2021, will have in-person commencements in May while 2020 graduates will participate in a drive-through ceremony.
“So what we did for commencement 2021 is really try to preserve as much of the experience as we can,” said Bethany Zemba, vice president and chief of staff. “For our seniors, we recognize that this is such a pivotal moment for graduates to be able to walk across the stage to be able to get the diploma, and really have that closure for all of the hard work that they put in over their time at Quinnipiac.”
The class of 2021’s ceremonies will be held at the People’s United Center on York Hill campus from May 7-10. Students will wear a mask and be spread apart in accordance with the state’s social distancing guidelines.
Guests are not allowed at the ceremony. Families and friends can watch virtually.
“When I first received the email about commencement, I was pleasantly surprised,” said Gina DiVito, a senior political science major. “This last year has been so hard due to COVID-19, and I really didn’t think we would get any sense of normalcy for graduation.”
Karla Natale, associate vice president of university events and community partnerships, said that the virtual program will have a “digital yearbook page” where the graduates can upload photos and videos of them along with writing about their favorite memories from their years at Quinnipiac.
It will also include an individual virtual chat room so members of each graduate’s family can interact with each other. There will be other features such as trivia questions about the graduate before the ceremony and confetti when their student walks across the stage.
Zemba said she worked with current and former students to see what everyone would want for the commencement ceremonies.
Members of the senior class government sent out a survey during the fall 2020 semester to all current seniors about what they would want their commencement experience to be like. Only 155 students filled it out.
DiVito said that she filled out the survey and voted for the options that included an in-person aspect.
“I am looking forward to my parents physically seeing me walk across the stage,” DiVito said. “I think Quinnipiac has spent a lot of time planning and putting effort into making this as best as they can.”
Olamide Gbotosho, a senior management major and senior class president, was on the commencement committee.
“I was there to represent the students and voice their concerns mainly,” Gbotosho said. “We also gave ideas and suggestions for not only graduation itself, but events leading up to graduation.”
Gbotosho said she received messages from students that were both positive and negative, but she hoped students understood that having a hybrid ceremony was more than what other schools have planned.
For example, Rhode Island School of Design’s commencement ceremonies will be completely virtual.
Senior class Vice President Emily MacDonald said she knew students in the classes of 2020 and 2021 would be disappointed about their ceremonies in some capacity.
“The biggest surprise was that some people in the class of 2021 want the experience the class of 2020 will get and vice versa,” MacDonald said. “It’s hard to feel like you’re letting people down, especially since I thought being able to walk in person was a win, since it’s more than the class of 2020 got last year.”
Zemba said that the reason behind students being unable to bring guests to commencement was that the COVID-19 task force decided that it would not be safe, according to the Connecticut state guidelines.
“We did talk about it, we talked about the possibility of testing and all of those things,” Zemba said. “But at the end of the day, there just isn’t enough space. And so the obstacles were too big, to be able to allow parents to join us. But we definitely understand that that is something that students will miss this year.”
Commencement plans for the class of 2020 include a drive-through experience in which students and four guests can stop their vehicle at certain points along the way to get out and take photos.
“We recognize that this is a feeling for a lot of our graduates that they didn’t really get that closure where they had the last picture with some of their friends in front of the Bobcat or that opportunity to walk across the stage,” Zemba said. “So we did want to try to find a way to make it special to allow those students to return to campus.”
Students and their guests will wear masks when they leave their vehicle and must observe social distancing rules when other groups are nearby.
Zemba and Natale emphasized that ceremonies are dependent upon students following the rules throughout the spring to help keep campus from having a large outbreak of COVID-19 cases.
“So we are feverishly hoping that our students will continue to do the right thing,” Zemba said. “And you know, avoid large gatherings, social distance, wearing the masks, all those things that are so important so that we can have this commencement experience, we will revisit it, there is a little bit of a clause in the message that went out that said that, you know, this is all subject to change.”