Petition Calls For BC to Hold In-Person Commencement

In the four days following the announcement that Boston College would be moving online for the semester, seniors wrapped up their time on campus by cramming in final Mod parties and barbecues, watching the sunrise at the reservoir, and saying their final goodbyes to some of their classmates. One event that was absent from the Class of 2020’s final days on the Heights, however, was an in-person Commencement ceremony—which the University has yet to make a decision about.

Quenton Koch, CSOM ’20, created a Change.org petition on March 17 calling upon the University to hold an in-person Commencement ceremony for the Class of 2020, even if it must be postponed to a later date. Commencement was originally scheduled to take place on May 18.

“Even if graduation is postponed to the distant future, we will not settle for an online graduation ceremony,” the petition reads. “We have worked too hard for the past 4 years to have commencement taken away from us.”

Koch launched the petition after he learned that the University of Pennsylvania announced it would have an online ceremony, as he became concerned that BC might make a similar decision. 

“It scared me a lot,” Koch said. “So I just went on a whim and made a petition and sent it to all my friends and groups I was in at BC, and it just took off from there.”

The statement on the Change.org page encourages members of the Class of 2020 as well as other BC students, alumni, and parents to “stand strong together” in convincing the BC administration not to replace an in-person ceremony with an online one. The page said that there were over 2,500 signatures on the petition at the time of publication.

With the petition, Koch said he was aiming to preserve some semblance of normalcy that seniors were deprived of after the University announced all students must move out and transition to online learning for the duration of the semester because of the novel coronavirus outbreak. 

“It was tough to say goodbye to people in such a short period of time, but at the same time, it was one of the best four days of my life,” said Koch. “It was a time where we were all just forced to push a lot of raw emotions onto the table before everyone left. It was sad but also really beautiful at the same time.”

In a letter to the BC community on Monday, University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J. said that he was “saddened” by how the COVID-19 outbreak particularly affected the Class of 2020. He added that he knew seniors had been eagerly anticipating Marathon Monday, Senior Week, and Commencement.

“A decision will be made soon whether Boston College will be able to hold its Commencement ceremony on May 18,” Leahy said. “If that should not be possible, every effort will be made to have a suitable event to honor graduating students at a later date.”

Vice President for Student Affairs Joy Moore reiterated in an email to The Heights on Tuesday that the University has not yet made a decision regarding its plans for Commencement, and she said that it has not imposed a deadline by which it will release a decision. 

In Koch’s view, having an in-person Commencement would allow the senior class some closure for the abrupt ending to their time at BC. It would also serve as an opportunity for the class to reunite to cope with the unprecedented experiences that will follow the University’s abrupt closing.

“I don’t know how long this [coronavirus outbreak] will last, but after everything is settled I think it would be good to come together to say, ‘Wow, this happened, and we all experienced it, and now we’ve grown from it,” Koch said.

Koch emphasized that right now people should focus on their health and safety and adjusting to their new mode of life, though he said having an in-person ceremony is important to him and is worth postponing.

“It’s better to stay safe, that’s the priority at this point, but I think everyone is willing to wait however long it takes for everything to smooth over, and eventually things will become normal,” Koch said. “Even if it takes months, I’m sure people are still willing to wait that long [for an in-person ceremony].”

Koch said that, overall, the petition has garnered a positive response among the members of the BC community. But one issue he acknowledged with his request is that having an in-person ceremony after students have already returned home may not be feasible for all members of the senior class, particularly low-income students and their families. 

He explained that in making a decision, the University would likely have to consider the logistics and financial burdens of students and their families returning to campus for a ceremony. Koch cited the extremely high rates of hotels in the area that were available for the days surrounding the previously set graduation date prior to the outbreak and acknowledged that such expenses are not a viable option for many families. 

Koch suggested the possibility of holding the ceremony in the summer or during another “off time” for BC’s campus in order to alleviate some complications that might accompany rescheduling such a large-scale event on campus. But he acknowledged that even if Commencement was held at another time, it would still probably be expensive for families.

To overcome the financial barrier, Koch suggested organizing a fundraiser to try to ease the financial burden of lower-income families and assist them in partaking in the Commencement ceremony, although he said he is unsure of how a process would logistically work—whether it would be funded entirely by the BC community or if the University itself would step in and make financial contributions.

Featured Image by Madeleine Romance / Heights Editor