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Commencement in the Time of COVID

I find myself lamenting many facts about our new normal. Those exciting events that once felt like momentous occasions—graduations, weddings, and big vacations—feel insignificant in today’s context, when healthcare workers are struggling to find the necessary supplies to care for the sick and over 6 million Americans are filing for unemployment in one week.

Of course, I know it’s still natural to grieve for the loss of these milestones. I was personally so excited for my family to visit NYC for my MBA graduation. Their flights from Florida were already booked and their hotel reservations made. It would be my 10-month-old niece’s first trip on an airplane, my boyfriend’s family’s first time meeting my family, and my mom had won two tickets to Hamilton for us and would take me as a graduation present. The disappointment in the cancellations and foiled plans is inevitable.

However, I remain optimistic. Graduation, at least for now, is not cancelled, but postponed “to a date still yet to be decided,” according to an email from NYU President Andrew Hamilton. Commencement had previously been scheduled to take place in Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, May 20, 2020. 

An email from Dean Raghu Sundaram echoed the message for school ceremonies as well. NYU Stern graduation exercises would’ve occurred Friday, May 22, at Madison Square Garden (MSG). Sundaram said to “please continue to save that date in your calendars as we intend to collectively mark the moment virtually” and that the Stern community will also “plan to come together in-person to celebrate when it’s safe to do so in the future.” (Although, if you’re like me, and graduated in December but was hoping to walk in May, you didn’t receive the postponement email until a few days after those graduating in May…a somewhat strange mistake. Why wouldn’t Stern just email everyone who RSVP’d to graduation? But I digress.)

So while we don’t know what this virtual commencement will actually look like, we can still have hope that an in-person graduation will eventually happen. I, for one, would even be content to wait until the same time next year (is it too optimistic to say that we may even have a vaccine by then?), as long as I get to don the violet cap and gown and celebrate the two years of hard work and rigorous studies with the friends made during group collaborations, class discussions, Beer Blasts (R.I.P.), and post-class happy hours.

Or, we could put our (extremely bright, if I do say so myself) heads together and come up with a creative solution. We are, after all, one of the top ten business schools in the country. Surely, we can be entrepreneurial in the face of misfortune.

Below is a mix of real and silly suggestions from graduating Sternies on how commencement should go down. Hopefully, they put a smile on your face as they did for me.

  1. “The first-ever fall graduation event.” – Loel Park
  2. “Let’s put everyone in bubbles and have graduation in Prospect Park.” – Sarah Lazun
  3. “The money that would have gone to MSG/all grad events could be redistributed to graduates as stimulus checks.” – Amy Gu
  4. “What was that MMORP (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing) game? Second Life? Everyone makes an avatar of themselves and graduates. Or we do it in Minecraft. I’m sure someone’s already created a Minecraft version of MSG.”  – Anton Deshchenko
  5. “A Sims graduation ceremony.” – Faina Leyvi
  6. “They should give us a winter ceremony. Since so many people finish after fall anyway and end up waiting [for May], they could just combine us with them and do one graduation.” – David Noveck
  7. “They [NYU] should throw one huge Beer Blast for us when we can all be around each other again.” – Varun Rampall

Whatever the case, I trust NYU will make the right decision that puts everyone’s safety above all else. As President Andrew Hamilton wrote, “…When we do convene to celebrate the Class of 2020, it will come with an added dose of praise and congratulations for the tremendous resiliency you have shown in the face of great adversity.” And to my fellow graduates: I can’t wait to see you again (even if it is as Sims characters). 

Photo credit: Roberta Fiorito

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