Seniors React to Online Commencement Ceremony

Maggie Rothfus, Copy Chief Emerita

On Saturday, May 16, Fordham University’s Class of 2020 graduated via a virtual commencement after the cancellation of an in-person ceremony. This is the first time the university has conducted such an event, especially in the short time frame the pandemic offered.

“Planning for Commencement starts almost a year before the actual ceremony,” stated Michael Trerotola, assistant university secretary and special assistant to the president. “Pivoting to a virtual format in a short timeframe presented a number of challenges, but through the understanding and cooperation of the Fordham community, we are doing everything we can to make sure our graduates feel celebrated on Saturday.”

Trerotola noted that the university felt it was important to recognize graduates on the day of their graduation in addition to the postponed in-person ceremony. The videocast, like a standard commencement, involves the deans from each college presenting their graduates and follows with Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of the university, conferring the degrees.

The switch to a digital commencement was met with varied responses. According to Trerotola, the primary planner of the commencement, it was a difficult decision for the university. For graduating seniors, many have different feelings.

Mike Tomicich, GSB ’20, says he is not tuning into the commencement’s videocast.

“(Virtual events like commencement have) lost their value,” he stated. “The class of 2020, like any other class, has worked incredibly hard for these special occasions, and now that everything is online, that value is gone. I would say that this is also accurate of how I feel about the virtual commencement, there’s no point to it if it’s not in person.”

While Tomicich cited the necessity for in-person ceremonies, Justine Engel, FRCH ’20, had other reasons for skipping both the live-streamed Baccalaureate Mass and commencement.

“I don’t plan on viewing the commencement or the mass, but I know my parents are,” she stated. “They are way more excited than I am. I personally think receiving my diploma in the mail will be more than enough. I’ve never been the ceremonial type.”

However, Chris Merola, FCRH ’20, and Mary McCluskey, FCRH ’20, do plan on viewing the commencement, while also acknowledging it will not be the same.

“I’ll take a look at the digital commencement for a bit, mostly just to see how Fordham handles it,” Merola stated. “It’s nice that Fordham is doing something. It’s not easy to envision a digital way to do this so I can sympathize with that.”

McCluskey, too, says she is watching to see how the virtual ceremony pans out: “This whole situation still feels very surreal, so I don’t think that the virtual ceremony will change that. And I don’t know if I’ll watch the whole ceremony, depending on how it goes.”

McCluskey clarified that she understands the rationale for choosing not to watch the broadcasted commencement, despite the event’s intentions.

“I think that it’s a nice gesture to still have the virtual event, but I can understand why someone might choose not to view it. It’s not the same, and that’s not anyone’s fault.”

She also told the Ram about her plans to view the Baccalaureate Mass because of her involvement with its planning, which required “several adjustments” for its live stream format.

McCluskey, Merola and Tomicich all stated their interest in attending the in-person ceremony for the Class of 2020, a date for which has yet to be announced. According to Trerotola, the virtual commencement — with slides featuring graduates and organized by the company Marching Order — is not a sufficient replacement for graduates walking to receive their diplomas.

“We know this does not replace the experience of walking across the stage at graduation, so we are looking forward to the day when we can safely reschedule those diploma ceremonies and give the Class of 2020 that experience,” he stated.

Kayla Dempsey, FCRH ’20, expressed that, despite deeming an in-person ceremony important, its significance might decrease due to time and graduates already receiving diplomas.

“Even if we have an in-person ceremony in the future, this feeling right after finishing classes will pass, so I (wish) they tried to make (commencement) as real as possible,” she stated. She is also viewing the commencement with her family and feels “okay” about it.

Dempsey plans to attend an in-person ceremony, but Engel, while understanding the wants of classmates, does not intend to return to campus after her graduation.

“I honestly really like the idea of a virtual commencement,” she stated. “I actually like it better than the regular ceremony. Something about sitting in the hot sun for 4+ hours isn’t appealing to me. It’s nice that they’re doing this so that the class can have a sense of closure though.”

Merola and Tomicich, although they plan to attend an in-person ceremony, brought up the issue of traveling for it.

“I would return to campus for an in-person graduation, but that’s really due to the fact that I live so close to Fordham, around 20 miles from the Bronx campus,” Tomicich stated.

Merola, who is attending University of Southern California for his MFA in the fall, is concerned that he will not be able to return even if he wants to.

“If I’m around I will return, it depends on when the events are,” he stated. “I’ll be going out to California in August, so that will put a hamper on my ability to attend any potential October in-person commencement.”

Meanwhile, McCluskey looks forward to the in-person ceremony when it is rescheduled without mentioning any hindrances.

“There’s something special about graduation for the class of 2020 because we’ll be celebrating not only our accomplishments at Fordham but also our ability to return to campus and reunite as a community.”