Simi Verma, a senior in the College of Liberal Arts, said her experience at Purdue has been rewarding.
“I met my best friends, was a part of Purdue University Dance Marathon, and gained internship experience at St Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital through connections here at Purdue,” she said.
But she admits the idea of a virtual graduation this year is a poor substitute for the real thing.
Graduating seniors will not be able to experience a physical rite of passage this spring due to the pandemic.
Purdue announced it will let seniors tune in to hear speakers and a conferral of degrees. Graduates will receive their diplomas, caps and gowns before May 15, the original date for spring commencement.
“Truthfully, not being able to walk on commencement day will always sting just a little bit,” Verma said via email. “I applaud Purdue for acting quickly and not stringing us along, and I realize that committing to another postponement day for graduation would be tough, considering the current circumstances and all the uncertainty.
“I think what so many of us are feeling is that while it’s understandable that commencement had to be canceled, it would be nice if Purdue could still take that extra step whenever the time is right to recognize the class of 2020.”
Verma moved back to New Jersey after Purdue decided to transition to remote learning and said she is experiencing mixed emotions.
“Going home has been an adjustment,” she said. “While it is nice to have home-cooked meals, it sucks not being around friends.”
Verma said she would be open to the idea of coming back to Purdue at a later date to celebrate the Class of 2020.
Ania Kap, a senior in the College of Agriculture, said after dealing with several personal matters, she has only recently processed the idea of a virtual-only graduation.
“Now that I have had time to digest everything, I’d say I’m pretty disappointed with not being able to have a proper graduation,” Kap said. “But I do not feel robbed of anything since we are quite literally in a pandemic and Purdue is doing what needs to be done.”
Kap said she harbors no resentment toward Purdue for not being able to have her long-anticipated graduation moment.
“At least they’re trying to figure out something in its place,” she said. “I think they’re adding this semester’s graduation list to the coming summer list so an in-person ceremony might still be possible.”
She, too, would not be against the idea of a post-dated celebration.
Purdue President Mitch Daniels said in a news release that if Purdue can’t hold a traditional ceremony under unprecedented circumstances, it will devise the “best remote one.”
Purdue Registrar Keith Gehres said Purdue is still gathering ideas and will provide more details soon.
“In the meantime, we want you to know how important this is to us,” he said. “How deeply we share in your disappointment that the usual ceremony can’t go on as planned and how hard we’re working to create a meaningful, memorable experience.”
Heather Servaty-Seib, a counseling psychology professor and leader of a grief and loss research team, emphasized the importance of this moment for students.
“I do believe that students may grieve the loss of graduation as an important rite of passage,” Servaty-Seib said. “U.S. society does not offer or provide many structured and specific rites of passage for young people, and graduation ceremonies are often one of the very few that do take place. Rites of passage allow for the recognition of individuals moving from one chapter of their lives to another.”
But she said it is possible for students to think beyond these gatherings to develop other creative options for recognition that are personally meaningful to them.
Kap said she hopes the Class of 2020 will eventually be recognized for its work and development.
“Honestly, it’s not even about graduation itself, like, many may agree that the ceremony itself can be boring or long, or both,” Kap said. “What it’s really about is what it all symbolizes and represents for so many. It’s the chance for all of us to have our moment and to relive those moments with all your friends, to recognize the growth that every single person has no doubt endured.”