Commencement is the ultimate milestone for most college graduates. But for UF seniors, it’s one they may not get to reach.
With the Class of 2020 commencement ceremonies indefinitely postponed due to COVID-19, current seniors have not been given a clear answer as to what will happen with their graduations. After UF’s announcement allowing fans for football this Fall, these students are concerned their graduation has been placed on the back burner.
UF has not done any comprehensive planning for the 2021 ceremony yet, said Stephanie McBride, UF director of commencements, calling the uncertain timetable for a vaccine the biggest barrier as to why graduations have not been organized yet.
The Class of 2021 graduation weekend is scheduled for April 29 to May 2.
“We have the venues reserved for those weekends,” McBride said. “What those weekends will look like? We don’t know what Corona’s going to do. We can’t predict that.”
That has led Suha Zaidi, a 22-year-old UF psychology senior, to lose hope for a ceremony entirely.
“They can claim it’s a top seven school for academics, but if they’re not letting students graduate, what does that really say?” she said. “Losing the opportunity to have a graduation is like the cherry on the cake of what 2020 has been.”
Zaidi is a Pathway to Campus Enrollment student (PACE) — a program that requires students to complete their first two years through UF Online — which she said made her feel less connected to UF. The switch to remote learning, especially in light of the upcoming football season, was the tipping point.
UF announced that Ben Hill Griffin Stadium will allow 20% of its regular capacity to attend football games this season. Other regulations include a four-seat distance between fans and mandatory masks throughout the game, except while eating and drinking.
Zaidi said it doesn’t matter.
“I think football is just a money source, but it shouldn’t be a higher priority than making sure we can graduate,” Zaidi said. “If football is safe, that should also be safe.”
Even if UF went ahead with concrete plans, it could still face difficulties with the State University System.
In June, the SUS directed state universities to plan alternatives to in-person ceremonies. That prevented UF from hosting their rescheduled Spring and Summer ceremonies, with the status of the Fall event still unclear.
The Board of Governors, which oversees the SUS, will provide direction on future commencement ceremonies soon, according to spokesperson Renee Fargason.