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Editorial: UCLA seniors deserve more than just an online commencement

By Editorial Board

March 19, 2020 12:33 p.m.

First it was spring quarter.

Then it was graduation.

UCLA announced Wednesday via Twitter that commencement ceremonies would be conducted online due to increasing public health concerns surrounding COVID-19.

While the decision was made to protect graduates’ friends and family who may be more vulnerable to contracting the disease, the method of communication and lack of student input rubbed salt in a large – and growing – wound.

For many students, especially those first generation, transfer or undocumented students who have overcome significant obstacles to walk across the stage and receive their diploma, watching a keynote speaker address the Class of 2020 on a computer screen is no substitution for the real thing.

It is unreasonable to expect that all graduates would be able to attend a ceremony at a later date, which is why it’s important to have the option to participate virtually. But offering a traditional commencement experience when conditions become safe again would give students and families the opportunity to experience a moment they’ve waited years for.

There’s no denying that coronavirus has upended the global economy, taken thousands of lives and stands as a serious public health risk.

But to diminish the importance of commencement in a mere tweet shows UCLA cares far more about its public image than its student experience.

Other universities have made plans to postpone commencement ceremonies. University of California, Irvine, the first of the UC system to announce such a decision, said they would consider either a virtual commencement or a ceremony during winter break December 2020. Currently, all California State University commencements are postponed to later this year.

The number one public university, on the other hand, decided that it would be suitable to send off its centennial class via a screen.

Following a student petition, the University of Pennsylvania considered hosting its commencement celebrations during fall of 2020. As of the publication of this editorial, UCLA students have circulated two petitions regarding the state of commencement.

Now, the UCLA administration has given graduates the opportunity to participate in a poll on their myUCLA accounts about how they would like the commencement to take place.

All students can do now is vote for what they want their graduation experience to be and hope the university actually listens.

There’s no telling where coronavirus may take the globe even a week from now. Commencement is months away, and seeing how quickly the news cycle has evolved, it will be an equally unpredictable time. Bruins understand the logistical and public health barriers to having a graduation ceremony anytime soon – but it doesn’t mean UCLA doesn’t owe them the promise of one somewhere down the line.

“Please remember: the day does not define the journey,” UCLA’s cancellation tweet read.

But imagine filling out financial aid forms without help, navigating a campus with little advice and hearing your parents tell you how proud they are for four years.

This day is what the journey has led to.

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