UI plans to hold fall commencement ceremonies virtually

With positive COVID-19 rates at their peak in Johnson County, the University of Iowa plans to hold fall commencement ceremonies virtually rather than in-person, citing health and safety concerns.


Ryan Adams

University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld speaks during virtual commencement on Saturday, May 16, 2020. Due to concerns surrounding the COVID-19, the University of Iowa moved fall commencement online.

Claire Benson, News Reporter

The University of Iowa announced that in-person fall 2020 commencement ceremonies will be canceled, leaving fall graduates — and students who already graduated in the spring — disappointed to not be walking across the stage any time soon.

The UI announced in a Sept. 2 email that fall 2020 commencement ceremonies will be held virtually rather than in-person as originally planned.

These ceremonies will all be live streamed, with the UI providing updates leading up to the event. The UI said anticipate an opportunity for 2020 graduates to participate in an on-campus or in-person ceremony sometime in the near future.

“UI leadership made the difficult decision to go virtual and we’re all disappointed because we know how much these ceremonies mean to our students and their families,” UI Associate Registrar Sara Sullivan said in an email to The Daily Iowan. “And while December seems a long way off, we feel it is the right decision to make now to maintain the health and safety of the entire campus community.”

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As of Sept. 9, the UI reported that there have been 1,621 positive COVID-19 cases among students since classes began on Aug. 24 and 21 among staff.

Sullivan said the decision to move commencement ceremonies virtually was made due to health and safety concerns brought by COVID-19, and that the UI is primarily focused on the wellbeing of the campus and the surrounding community.

“The safety of our campus community was at the forefront of the decision and will continue to be the focus of subsequent planning,” Sullivan said. “Summer graduates are included in fall plans for commencement, and we look forward to celebrating all of our Hawkeyes in the safest way possible. We’re once again working with our many campus partners to make commencement(s) as special as possible in a virtual setting.”

UI senior Christina Bordenet, who is in her final semester of nursing school, said she is set to graduate at the end of this fall semester. She said she’s disappointed in the decision to move the commencement ceremonies online — however, she said she believes it’s the safest option at the moment, she said.

“Obviously I’m disappointed, because [no one] wants graduation to be virtual,” Bordenet said. “I agree with the decision. It sucks, but that’s the way it is.”

Bordenet said if the UI had taken a different approach to controlling the spread of COVID-19 on campus, there may have been a possibility to have in-person commencement ceremonies.

“I think the university could’ve handled this whole situation better,” Bordenet said. “I’m frustrated they aren’t [making any adjustments]. It did not have to be like this.”

UI senior Caitlyn Grebner, who is set to graduate this fall as well, said she understands why the UI decided to hold the commencement ceremonies virtually rather than in-person, as she agrees it is the safest option.

However, Grebner said she believes if commencement ceremonies must be held virtually, all classes should be, too.

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She added she is upset about the decision to hold commencement ceremonies virtually, as graduating is an important milestone for students, especially for first-generation college students.

“I’m not even a first-generation student, and there are first-generation students [that are graduating],” Grebner said. “I think that [the commencement] ceremony is a big symbol for me. As much as I don’t really want to sit through a three-hour ceremony, [graduating] means the world to me.”

Although students graduating virtually will be invited to attend an in-person commencement ceremony at a later date, Grebner said she thinks this is not a feasible option for many graduates, herself included.

“While they’re offering for us to come back, that’s nearly impossible for the majority of us,” Grebner said. “My time is done…most likely I won’t be in the state, so it’s kind of hard for me to be able to navigate, ‘how can I plan a weekend trip just to come back for a commencement ceremony that was supposed to be six plus months ago?’”

Grebner said after spending four enjoyable years at the UI, it’s difficult to know her time as a student will end with a virtual commencement ceremony.

“It’s hard to comprehend that [it’s] really what’s happening,” Grebner said. “I’ve just spent four amazing years at the [University of Iowa] and I have to be virtual for my commencement, and that’s upsetting.”