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Seniors to make most of online commencement, celebrating at home

May 1, 2020 By Chelsea Hylton and Kayla Huynh

Many UW–Madison graduates-to-be plan to celebrate their commencement from the comfort of their own homes, as the live ceremony has been postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The virtual commencement video will be released at noon on Saturday, May 9.

Kynala Phillips

Kynala Phillips, a fifth-year First Wave graduating senior, is not letting the virus stop her from celebrating her accomplishment of graduating from college with loved ones.

“Right now, my plan for graduation is to watch the ceremony with my boyfriend and our families via Zoom. We are hoping to order crabs and really make a big deal out of it despite the circumstances,” she said.

Students have worked hard for this moment and deserve to be celebrated for their hard work, she said.

“I think to a certain extent the virus has lessened my excitement. But I think even when we think about this virus and the turmoil it has caused, we will be given an opportunity to graduate from this pandemic and to heed all the lessons we learned during this season,” she said.

Lauren Sorenson

Lauren Sorensen, senior class president  said she plans to celebrate with her parents, boyfriend, and best friend and roommate.

“My mom is going to cook a huge gorgeous meal, we are going to drink champagne, watch the ceremony, and cry, Sorensen said.

She has mixed feelings about the experience, as finishing classes and exams normally means celebrating with friends. She thinks the sadness will hit her when she watches the virtual commencement.

“The biggest thing we are losing is the transition,” Sorensen said. “We are students and all of a sudden we won’t be, without all of the normal fanfare that helps ease us through that transition.”

Sarah Neufcourt

Fifth-year Posse scholar Sarah Neufcourt was excited to be able to gather in Camp Randall with family and friends and celebrate.

“I’m actually upset,” Neufcourt said. “I have worked so hard and have overcome so much while in college and I can’t even have a proper graduation.”

Some frustration is natural as students adjust to the changing environment, she said, but she’s excited to have a live ceremony at a later date.

Chancellor Rebecca Blank has promised that an in-person event will be held for the graduating class when crowds can gather safely, and she’s consulting with senior class officers about the details.

Alyssa Birkeland

Alyssa Birkeland, senior class vice president, said she’s disappointed about the circumstances but also is glad the university plans an in-person celebration in the future. She’s giving the opening remarks at the virtual commencement.

“I’ll be celebrating with my family at home, hopefully with some steak and cheesecake. I’ll also be Zooming with my friends to watch the ceremony together,” Birkeland said.

Graduating senior and Chicago native and Posse scholar Shiloah Coley is excited for some of the smaller virtual commencement celebrations being held by many schools and departments, including the Division of Diversity, Equity & Educational Achievement and the Multicultural Student Center.

“I think that for me I’ve always been more excited about the DDEEA graduation and the MSC graduation just because I was never excited for the big commencement,” said Coley. “Personally, I prefer more intimate settings where I actually see people I know.”

Shiloah Coley

In the midst of COVID-19, the meaning of graduation has shifted for Coley. Since the beginning of college Coley says that she always knew her commencement would be a celebration for her family but with the chaos of everything going on she says it is more about her now.

“In the beginning when this first started happening I thought to myself that it would’ve been nice to be able to celebrate with friends. It’s a celebration of me and everyone else graduating. I attach a bit more meaning to it now. It’s a culmination of all of our hard work. Graduation signifies closure of my time at UW. Obviously, all the lessons I’ve learned will always travel with me and move with me,” said Coley.