UF COVID graduation

Joelle Dorsett’s black cap and gown has been sitting in her room for a week. She’s unsure when she will be able to don it and walk across the stage in front of thousands, so for now, it collects dust.

“It was bittersweet because it's nice to look at,” said 21-year-old Dorsett, who graduated from UF in Spring with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. “But at the same time, I will not be walking as far as I know, and that's a little saddening.”

The State University System, which oversees 12 public universities of Florida, instructed all Florida public universities Thursday to redevelop alternate Summer commencement ceremonies, citing social distancing guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This includes Summer graduations and any rescheduled Spring commencements.

In March, the State University System announced that all on-campus Spring commencement ceremonies would be postponed from the original April 30 to May 3 graduation weekend. The State University System asked that schools either reschedule their commencements or develop another way to safely celebrate their students.

On April 29, UF conducted an online celebration for nearly 10,000 graduating students. This was meant to be a placeholder for celebrations that were planned to take place for Spring graduates.

UF wrote Thursday they will share more details this week about their plan for these alternative commencement ceremonies.

Dorsett said she feels disappointed she won’t be able to cross the O’Connell Center stage with the other Spring 2020 graduates. But she said her family and her community's safety are more important.

The university apologized for any inconvenience the announcement causes graduates and their families in a statement on their website on Thursday.

“We regret the disappointment and inconvenience this will cause for graduates and their families who looked forward to attending the University of Florida’s rescheduled spring graduation weekend,” the statement said.

After four years of studying at UF, this ending feels anticlimactic, 21-year-old Samira Ahmed, who graduated from UF this spring with a bachelor’s degree in health education and behavior, said. She said she wishes the State University System would give more details about what the future of their graduation looks like.

Ahmed said she understands that health and safety is a priority, but there are other ways to accommodate students. 

“I think it's unbelievable that UF, a top ten university, cannot figure something out yet,” she said.

University officials will meet next week with UF President Kent Fuchs, among others, to determine plans for graduation, UF Director of Commencements Stephanie McBride said.

“We know how much it affects the graduates and their families, so we are going to get the information out as quick as we can,” she said.

Dezy Blanco said she was looking forward to seeing her oldest son, 23-year-old Alec Blanco, don his black cap and gown this Summer and as he finished his bachelor’s degree in information systems this Spring.

It's too early for the State University System to make the decision to change Summer commencement, she said. As Florida is beginning to enter into Phase 2 of reopening , she said she is frustrated that bars and sporting events will begin to open across the state, but the decision on her son’s graduation remains unknown.

“There's high schools all across the country that are making it work, there's gotta be something they can do,” she said.

As a parent, she said the news that graduation would be postponed again was even harder to hear than the initial postponement in March. After hoping that she would see her son graduate soon, that has been swiftly taken away with this news.

In an announcement on its website, the State University System said that universities were creative in celebrating their Spring graduates, and they are confident that Summer graduates will receive the same celebration, the State University System wrote

The system should be asking graduates how they want graduation to be handled, said 21-year-old Mackenzie Kittell, who finished her bachelor’s degree in biology this Spring.

“We put so much time and effort into our degree, and they should be putting as much time and effort into figuring out the situation,” she said.

In the time between the Spring postponement to now, the State University System could have sent a survey to students asking how they think it should be handled, she said. Kittell said she thinks students should be included in the conversation with the State University System about commencement.

“I definitely think that people deserve an explanation after dedicating these four years to being a Gator at UF,” she said. “We deserve a little more than what was given.”

Her fraternal twin sister, Madisyn Kittell, 21, will graduate from UF this Summer with a degree in sports management and said she wants the commencement date to be pushed back until it can be done in person. An online graduation would not do the graduates justice, she said.

“You are looking at a computer screen, maybe even in your pajamas,” she said. “You are not wearing a cap and gown, you are not with your family members in front of everyone.”

Contact Ariana at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @arianaluzzz.

Staff Writer

Ariana is a UF Journalism junior pursuing minors in Innovation and Health Disparities in Society. Her dream is to travel the world and make a documentary one day. She enjoys baking, playing with her three dogs and spending way too much time on TikTok.