Students express dissatisfaction with plans for virtual Commencement

It was announced back at the beginning of April that all three UW Campuses — Tacoma, Bothell and Seattle — would be coming together for the first time and doing a combined commencement ceremony online. This was in response to the current COVID-19 pandemic as well as Governor Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order shutting down major event centers, like the Tacoma Dome.

However, the option to move the ceremonies online has drawn criticism and ire from many graduating students, who see the online ceremony as a lackluster replacement to an actual event.

“I think that the online ceremony is very impersonal and doesn’t validate all of the hard work that this class has gone through over the years,” said Summer Zuchowski, a Communications major and graduating senior. “I am a First Generation student so this ceremony meant a lot to me as well as my family. I had family and friends taking time off of work to come and celebrate with me, and even though we have restrictions I think the university could have accommodated the class of 2020 with a later Commencement.”

Other universities and colleges in Washington state have handled the changing of their commencements in similar ways that UW has done. The University of Puget Sound is hosting two online events in the middle of May. Washington State University is also holding an online event for its graduates, but notes in-person events might still happen depending on the campus. Zuchowski pointed out that Pacific Lutheran University had moved their ceremony back to be in September, and retained it as a live event. 

“I don’t know why we couldn’t do the same,” said Zuchowski. “I love our school but I don’t think that this decision of a joint virtual ceremony is very fulfilling for anyone.” 

Amica Atienza, a Biomedical Science major and soon-to-be graduate, shared a similar sentiment that Zuchowski had. She summed up her frustrations in a letter to Chancellor Mark Pagano, but decided against sending it to him. However, she provided The Ledger with the text of the letter for use in this article.

“Perhaps the most disheartening factor contributing to this feeling of being slighted is there was no space for student comments or concerns throughout the entire process of making these grand decisions,” Atienza wrote. “For a university that claims to listen to and encourage students when they speak out against wrong and voice their concerns, the blatant lack of student input clearly conveys the contrary.

“I can only imagine how difficult it must be in your position during this crisis and am simply asking for you to do the same —  truly understand how disappointed and disrespected we feel only because we feel as though you didn’t even try,” Atienza continued in her letter.

Atienza then stated to The Ledger that she understands the decision was made to ensure everyone’s safety, but wishes for more communication and transparency from those in charge of the decision. She was especially interested in any discussion that was had for postponing the event back until the fall months.

“I understand the threat to public health and would never put this ceremony above anyone’s well being and it just simply isn’t feasible in June, especially in light of the new extended orders and the new precautions that will be part of our new ‘normal,’” Atienza said to The Ledger.  “But again I was hoping for a ceremony this year in fall quarter, even as late as November or December.”

The plans for the online ceremony is that it will begin at 1:30 p.m. on June 13. The event will be “a one-of-a-kind, live, worldwide and interactive webcast,” according to UW President Ana Marie Cauce’s April letter. All schools are selecting speakers to represent their respective student bodies. Students have until May 11 at 5 p.m. to submit their applications, at which point the applicants will go through a review process to determine who will speak and represent UW Tacoma. Atienza said she is interested in sending an application to be the speaker.

“I hope to remind the class of 2020 — including myself — that they are seen and to celebrate our journeys and experiences we’ve had at UW Tacoma that can never be taken away.” Atienza said. “I want to encourage us all to choose to use this unique opportunity to our advantage and instead of being victims we can see we were placed here ‘for such a time as this.’”