Seniors react to Commencement being postponed

The Class of 2020 will not be walking the stage in May

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A photo of NJCU's 2018 commencement ceremony . Photo courtesy of njcu.edu

May’s commencement ceremony is postponed due to the Coronavirus pandemic President Sue Henderson announced via email yesterday. 

Seniors expressed a range of emotions about not walking the stage this semester. Students were contacted through social media for quotes.

Cruz Flores Vasquez, a senior majoring in Mathematics and Secondary Education said although he understands why commencement is postponed, he is also hurt. 

“I am a first-generation college student. It’s definitely a big event in my life not only for the sake that I finish college but also for the sake of conquering all these struggles and finally celebrating not only my sacrifices but the sacrifices of my parents. It’s devastating to hear that I won’t be having that experience as many students have had in the past.” 

Henderson said in the email: “Our top priority during the COVID-19 crisis is to safeguard the NJCU community and comply with the orders of the State of New Jersey prohibiting large gatherings.”

In early March, Governor Phil Murphy banned gatherings of over 200 people in the State of New Jersey; the commencement ceremony was expected to have hundreds of people in attendance. 

However, students can look forward to receiving their diplomas through the mail. 

Jasmine Antunez, a senior majoring in Mathematics with a concentration in Elementary and Early-Childhood Education, said she is sad that commencement is postponed but happy that it was not cancelled. 

“I’m a first gen college student so my family really wants to see me walk so it is nice that they consider postponement.” 

Juan Berdecia, a senior majoring in Criminal Justice said he is “devastated and heartbroken.”

“There’s nothing the Gothic family could have done to stop this pandemic. I fully agree with the decision the school took immediately. I feel disappointed but mostly heartbroken that this year’s senior class like myself worked so hard for this achievement not to be given to us or the opportunity to be recognized and walk the stage like past years. Yes, we will have our physical diplomas but won’t be able to invite our family to a ceremony that represents all of our hard work and effort. Graduation is the most heartfelt moment in our collegiate career.  We will be known as the graduating class of corona 2020.”  

Aja Moore, a senior majoring in Graphic Design said she has questions about what NJCU will do next for seniors other than commencement.

“I understand that Covid-19, respectfully, is making people sick and even causing death during this time so it is safe, but what does postponed mean from NJCU? Will we still get our caps & gowns? Senior portraits? The class trip and other things that are supposed to happen during the semester are lost, etc.?”

Moore continues: “ I returned to college from almost 10 years ago today and walking on stage this semester as Cum Laude would have been a remarkable honor for myself, family and those older students who may be scared to return or think they cannot do it.”

In contrast, Veralda Simeon, a senior majoring in Biology said she is happy “that NJCU took their time before making any announcements about graduation.”

“Other universities canceled commencement and I’ve seen so many posts of how angry and frustrated students were. I can at least say NJCU took the time to postpone it which gives us seniors hope of walking. Nobody saw COVID-19 happening and we hope it ends soon. Even if graduation is in the winter we just want to walk. Thank you NJCU for being hopeful and not canceling.”

Koi Nivins, a senior majoring in Psychology with a minor in African American studies said that she was looking forward to graduating but feels good that it is not canceled. 

“Personally my entire college career the one thing I’ve looked forward to is walking across the stage, getting my degree in hand, doing some kind of celebratory dance down the stairs and joining my family at the end knowing they were in the stands screaming my name in support. It’s jarring and bittersweet to know that experience will be postponed but NOT CANCELED.  I feel as a human being, I have a social obligation to protect others, which in the long run protects me. The ferocity of this virus has been like nothing else we’ve ever seen, and I would rather when the ceremony does take place for it to not only be celebratory but SAFE for everyone;graduates, presenters,and family/friends alike. My college experience overall won’t be ceased or negated because I don’t ‘walk across the stage’ to get my degree, simply paused. As long as I still get my degree!, that’s all that matters.”

Christian Dowdell, a senior majoring in Psychology said that he feels protected knowing the ceremony is postponed. “Hearing that may not be the first thing one would expect but I appreciate the University looking out for the well being of the students. Of course I was looking forward to the ceremony but as of right now I am grateful for my health & me and my family are safe from harm’s way as people of all ages are dying every day from COVID-19…I have been taking the time appreciating all I have and not letting the virus get to my head. I am staying up to date with everything and I hope everyone continues to stay safe and this will all be over before we know it.”

Seniors Adjust

At the same time students learned they are not going to be able to walk the stage, many are still adapting to the new environment.

Antunez, the senior majoring in Mathematics with a concentration in Elementary and Early-Childhood Education, said “This has really affected student teachers at the moment with [Teacher Performance Assessment] edTPA and trying to get our certification. Right now many of us are in limbo because we are not teaching in the physical aspect and for edTPA we need to record ourselves teaching and send it out to score to get our certification. So a lot of us student teachers are fighting the state to cut the scores so we are able to get our certification with this roadblock in front of us which was something that was an unseen event that was going to happen.” 

Vasquez is also affected like Antunez as a student teacher. “I am not able to communicate with many staff from NJCU. I am in an internship at a middle school. I’m working from home and I dont have the full experience like others working with student teachers. I can’t go out and complete my edTPA which is something all student teachers need to complete.”

Simeon said the virus has affected her job. “I am grateful to still have a job but as a healthcare worker I’ve been doing alot of longer hour shifts. COVID-19 has definitely humbled me and taught me to not take anything for granted. One day we were able to go outside whenever we wanted and now we cannot. Everyday on earth we spend, healthy and alive is a blessing and I’m learning to appreciate that everyday.”

Berdecia said the virus ruined trips for student athletes. “One trip was a tour of Italy with a group of talented volleyball players from across the US. Another trip that was canceled was a trip to Bonaire with swimming instructor Tom Lee from NJCU. It has also affected the final year of my collegiate athletic career. Not being able to complete the season feels like an automatic loss with no fight, it hurts. Like many other senior athletes, we looked forward to senior night as a night of Appreciation and Recognition.”

Nivins said that COVID-19 has been “devastating and enlightening.”  

“It made me reevaluate my family relationships, what I value and where I want to go with my life after this storm passes, which it will. I’ve grown a greater appreciation for creativity, productivity, and learning how to have faith required to know that there will be a brighter day. The night has to fully pass, before the dawn and dew can be appreciated. I definitely didn’t realize all the novel things I do on an everyday basis that I would miss the sense of a routine (going to work, going on campus, social outings, etc.) and it makes me appreciative of all the memories I made and will make again, when ‘outside’ opens back up.”

Dowdell said that “it is OK” for seniors “to be safe, disappointed, or frustrated” because of commencement. 

“Although I encourage you all to not let your disappointment over take your overall spirit. Hard, unexpected times only prepare us for the next change we will face in life. “

President Henderson concluded in her email that the school is in the process of “finding ways to recognize and honor” the graduating students’ achievements. 

Henderson said: “We will be talking with the Student Government Association and other key stakeholders to determine the best way to do so as this unprecedented pandemic continues to unfold. Please stay tuned for details.” 

A new date for the ceremony has yet to be determined. 

Additional reporting  by Maryam Pervaiz.