One of the greatest impacts that COVID-19 had on college students everywhere was the closing of universities. With the closing of their schools, college seniors across the country were left wondering what this would mean for their commencement.
Some universities, like UAB, responded to the situation by going online. Many others, including the University of Montevallo, chose to delay commencement. In the case of UM, commencement is currently scheduled for Aug. 7.
This change in plans is saddening for many seniors, but it hits many first-generation college students particularly hard.
“This is a major milestone; and not to be able to savor that moment would be extremely disappointing, I would imagine,” said Dr. Denise Myers, the director of the TRIO Student Support Services.
The sentiment expressed by Myers was shared by senior history major Thomas Reid. Though Reid agreed with UM’s decision to push back commencement, it didn’t stop him from feeling disappointed when he received the news.
“I had anticipated to graduate in May — party plans had been in the works, my parents and in-laws prepared to watch me cross the stage as one of the first people in the family to earn a bachelors,” said Reid. “I was dismayed, angry, even depressed when I received the email which pushed graduation back to August.”
Justin Williams, an accounting major and the senior class president, expressed a hope that seniors would still be able to come together and enjoy the ceremony.
“At first, I was highly disappointed that graduation was postponed but then I realized that it was a good thing since most schools cancelled theirs all together. It made me realize how much Montevallo cares about its students and sees us as family,” said Williams.
According to psychology major Carrie Wells, a first-generation college student and mother of four who started her journey as a college student in 2012, part of the pain was the way she saw graduation as the culmination of her overcoming the barriers that had stood in her path.
“This is a huge accomplishment for me personally, because I never graduated high school,” said Wells. “I have been dreaming about this day for so many years and it was finally here only to be delayed even further.”
“Above all, I had strongly desired to walk across the stage knowing that I had achieved something many people thought I could not,” said Reid.
While seniors like Wills and Williams are grateful that the University didn’t cancel commencement entirely, others like Reid raise the question of how many seniors will be able to attend.
“In all honesty, I do not expect to attend the August ceremony as I plan to have a job by then. I have heard similar attitudes from fellow seniors; I imagine that the August commencement will be sparse to say the least,” said Reid.
While Wells does not expect the August commencement to be as special as the original spring commencement would have been and is disappointed that the senior class may not be able to say goodbye to all of their friends, she is still hopeful.
“I am hoping that they do something extra special and out of the ordinary for us. This has been a rough time to be a senior,” said Wells.
This sentiment was shared by several of her fellow graduating seniors.
“I expect that the commencement ceremony will differ from what I have been expecting through the graduates’ interactions with one another,” said first generation college student and English major Kelli Sellers. “It will be a bittersweet time because not only are we seeing each other for the first time in a long time, but we might also be seeing each other for the last time as we begin the next chapters of our lives.”
“I think that the experience, though different, will be more meaningful just because it will show the love that comes from being a part of the Montevallo family,” Williams said.
While these seniors had a variety of feelings and responses on the subject of commencement, all of the seniors contacted by The Alabamian agreed the University had made the right decision to delay commencement.
Sellers summed it up by saying, “I know the University wants to do its absolute best to celebrate the graduates’ achievements. I appreciate every effort the university is making to support their students, faculty, and staff during this time.”