UI seniors face the reality of canceled commencement this spring

The confirmation of canceled spring commencement ceremonies for University of Iowa seniors hits hard for those who have worked four years for the celebration.


File/The Daily Iowan

University of Iowa mascot Herky the Hawkeye goes back out On Parade for the 10th Anniversary of Herky on Parade on Monday, May 5, 2014.

Annie Fitzpatrick, News Reporter

The University of Iowa announced March 18 that spring commencement ceremonies are canceled as the spread of the novel coronavirus upends student life, though plans are in the works for an alternative celebration for graduating Hawkeyes.

For some UI seniors, commencement would have been the first time some in their families walked across a stage. For others, it was a satisfactory cap on years of crammed tests, projects, internships, part-time jobs, and a transition to a new phase of life.

Growing evidence of community spread of the virus in Johnson County and the rest of the state prompted the decision. As of Sunday, the Iowa Department of Public Health has confirmed 90 COVID-19 cases, with 32 in Johnson County.

Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa have also announced online instruction would extend through the rest of the semester, and commencement ceremonies would be suspended.

In an email sent to UI students, the university said administrators are in the process of planning alternative celebrations for graduating Hawkeyes.

UI Student Government and Graduate and Professional Student Government leaders sent students a link to take a survey to offer other options for commencement.

“We know how much these ceremonies mean to our students and their families, but we feel it is the right decision to protect those most vulnerable to the threat of infection,” said the UI in its email.

Some UI seniors said they anticipated the cancellations, but confirmation of the university’s decision is devastating for some.

UI senior Kaylie Wilson is a first-generation college student double majoring in political science and ethics and public policy with minors in Spanish and studio art. As a first-gen student, Wilson said that she and her family were still grappling with the idea of not being able to see her walk at commencement after all of her hard work.

“It feels like you’re having your senior year robbed from you,” Wilson said. “I understand completely and support most of the decisions … but you’re allowed to have emotions about these things and it does sort of hurt that it had to happen during senior year.”

Wilson also said the uncertainty of her post-graduation plans because of COVID-19 is another area of stress resulting from the pandemic. She said she was looking forward to making an income and finding a job, but the virus has affected her confidence in regard to those plans.

“It’s heavy on the emotional side … and also the stress of real life and what is actually going to happen once you get out of there,” Wilson said.

Paul Arnal, a UI senior and a comprehensive biology major pursuing dental school, said commencement cancellations make the four-year process of college feel incomplete.

The UI gave him and his fellow students a yellow tassel to motivate them to graduate freshman year, he remembers now, so not having the pomp and circumstance that goes with the tassel is disappointing.

“To have spent four years dedicating myself to working toward that moment … to not be able to have that moment would kind of feel … not sufficient, or like I’m not done — inconclusive,” he said.

UI senior Kody Meyer, a communications-studies major and ASL minor, said just last year she was not very excited for graduation and even considered not walking. But, as the outbreak of COVID-19 began to threaten her chances to have a commencement ceremony, she said she no longer liked the idea of not having that option.

Meyer said she anticipated some unexpected things to happen senior year, but the outbreak of COVID-19 is more of a surprise than she imagined.

“On the one hand, I kind of felt like not knowing what senior year is supposed to go,” Meyer said. “But this is definitely more unknown than I was planning for.”

One of the hardest things to accept with cancellations, Meyer said, is that her family will not be able to see her walk across the stage and receive her diploma.

“I imagine my family will still want to come up and see me…” Meyer said. “But I really liked the idea of having that ceremony where my family is sitting in a row cheering for me.”

The UI earlier this week provided the following advice for those who believe they may have been exposed to the virus or are experiencing symptoms:

DO NOT walk in to QuickCare, Student Health, any UI Health Care clinic, the State Hygienic Lab or any emergency room. Instead, follow these procedures:

It is important to know that your privacy will be maintained by your provider.

Social distancing is how the community can stop the virus from spreading. Remain out of congregate settings, avoid mass gatherings, and maintain safe distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible.