EU announces virtual commencement, students respond with petition and solutions

Category:  News
Friday, March 19th, 2021 at 1:52 PM

The altering of commencement ceremonies has been upsetting graduating students since the beginning of the pandemic last year. Another crop of departing Edinboro University seniors were hit with the news of a virtual commencement on March 5 through an email from Interim EU President Dr. Dale Elizabeth-Pehrsson.

Instead of simply being met with disappointment, though, EU’s announcement was countered with student solutions and a petition from the Class of 2021 that’s gathered over 1,300 signatures. These efforts were formally recognized by Edinboro administration with a promise to rethink the virtual move. A final decision is expected by March 22.

Edinboro seniors Maeve Stewart and Bailey Summerville crafted the detailed petition that highlights potential hybrid and COVID-19 safe ceremonies. “We were pretty upset about it because we have worked really hard for four years,” Summerville told Edinboro Television about the virtual graduation decision. The petition was then started up on March 7, and, within days, it eclipsed the 1,000 signature mark, full of support for the students and the ideas. “By having a safe, in-person ceremony, the students can get their deserved recognition for the past four years, as well as acknowledgment for their perseverance during the past year,” said Stewart.

The petition acknowledges the dangers of the COVID-19 virus, while also providing graduation ideas that would honor social distancing and mask mandates. It also details the concept of having a hybrid ceremony, including both Zoom participants and in-person graduates, which would allow for a solution for those who did not feel comfortable within a fully in-person event.

Summerville further explained that the goal isn’t “this huge ceremony where we were going to be sitting next to each for hours. We just want the recognition of our hard work.”

The petition then gives possible arenas and locations for the ceremony, both on campus and throughout the local region, including Edinboro’s Sox Harrison Stadium, the General McLane football field, Erie Insurance Arena and more. All of these are larger locations, or they offer more outdoor components than McComb Fieldhouse, which is usually where undergraduate commencement is held.

The petition also states that: “we understand we cannot have all of our families there. With that being said, having it be virtual while still having students present can be achieved.”

“I believe that we outlined many examples of safe possibilities for the school to follow,” said Summerville. “We are extremely grateful that the school is reconsidering and taking our words into account. We trust that the school will make the best decision that takes into account our safety, and also recognize and supports us and our accomplishments.”

One signee of the petition stated: “I believe these students deserve a full graduation. Those who do not wish to attend can do so virtually. Make it their choice.” Another signee was a family member of a graduate: “I signed this petition for my daughter. She will be a first-generation college graduate. She has worked extremely hard (especially within this last year). The Class of 2021 has been stripped of their entire senior year. It is only fitting that Edinboro University provide them with the option for an in-person commencement ceremony.”

Summerville and Stewart, along with a couple other supporting students, attended the recent “Tea Time” event hosted by Pehrsson in order to bring further attention to the petition. The students were met with promises that they were indeed heard and that Edinboro would consider their ideas for a possible in-person or hybrid ceremony.

We now wait and see if the student signatures and push was enough. “While we await their answer, we are extremely grateful to the university for reconsidering their original plan and our petition,” Stewart stated, with Summerville agreeing.

Julia Petrovich is the Arts Editor for The Spectator. She can be reached at edinboro.spectator@gmail.com.

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