For AU’s class of 2020, many of their “lasts” came a lot sooner than they thought, and some didn’t even come at all. Along with the news on March 18 that the remainder of the semester would be online, seniors learned that commencement would also be canceled.
Senior biology major Ellen Doss decided to take initiative and create a petition to share on social media in hopes that a commencement held at a later date could happen.
“This, already on the top of the list of ‘lasts’ the senior class wouldn’t get to experience, was the nail in the coffin for me,” Doss said. “I know that Anderson made the best decisions for the health and welfare of its students, but if I could sway the leadership to even consider a postponed celebration for the seniors, when the world is semi-back in order, I would have won.”
She said that as a PACT minor, making waves is something that she values; however, she didn’t expect the petition to go as far as it did. After being shared countless times on social media, the petition has been signed by almost 900 people.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the class of 2020 and the entire student body for standing up for us,” Doss said. “Even alumni have spread the word and signed. Knowing that some universities had made the decision to postpone their commencement made me realize that it could be possible Anderson would reconsider canceling a celebration definitively.”
She explained that in no way does it have to be a grand celebration, but she just wants something for her class.
“My petition says ‘celebration’ because that is all I truly want,” Doss said. “The ceremony does not have to be grand or a massive undertaking, nor do students have to come back if it is an inconvenience for them to. I truly just want some kind of last moments with my class—whether that be a picnic in the valley in our caps and gowns or a ceremony. We simply deserve recognition.”
Her passion for this final celebration with her fellow classmates comes from her love for campus and the people there.
“Right now, if everything were normal, I would be finalizing my senior research project in the lab and beginning to analyze the data from it,” she said. “I have been preparing to do this independent research since my sophomore year. Instead of finishing this and starting to take in my last moments on campus with friends that have become family, I am back in my childhood home, listening to online lectures from professors that have become mentors and ‘second parents’ to me.”
She said the social distancing aspect of the pandemic precautions has been the hardest for her.
“The communities I have become a part of at AU have inspired me, grown me and nurtured me,” Doss said. “I have gotten so close to the entire biology department—from being a TA in classes, tutoring students and forming friendships from lab partnerships. I have also been an active member of Camarada since my sophomore year, and when Monday night rolled around, it saddened me to think that I wouldn’t be going to Hartung 167 for the meeting, for one of the first times in three years. Missing the little things like this has been so difficult, and I know it’s only going to get worse as the year comes closer to the end.”
Senior engineering major Kenny Parson said this change to online classes has changed his class structure drastically, especially final projects.
“Many of my engineering classes involve hands-on work in the lab, so it definitely changed how my classes were structured,” Parson said. “This also means that all of our senior design projects were stopped. It’s extremely hard to be so close to finishing these projects, and then just have to document them off.”
With commencement being canceled, he said that it is affecting a very big accomplishment in his life.
“One of my biggest struggles with the cancellation of commencement is that I am one of the first in my family to get a Bachelor’s degree, and now that is not being acknowledged,” Parson said.
Senior nursing major Isabelle Thomas touched on the many challenges that have occurred within her major since the announcement of online classes.
“There have already been quite a few challenges,” Thomas said. “A lot of seniors were not able to finish their capstones. I was super blessed to be able to complete all of my hours, but I really feel for those who couldn’t because this has been the experience that has prepared me the most for becoming an RN.”
She also said that their eight-hour labs have been pushed to a later date due to the difficulty of moving it to a virtual platform. Major final exams have also been affected by this new reality.
“Another problem has been trying to figure out and untangle the confusion that comes with the registration to be a Registered Nurse for your specific state, as well as signing up for our licensure exam, the NCLEX,” she said. “I feel like I’ve missed a step in the process which makes me nervous.”
The pinning ceremony is a big achievement for nursing majors, and Thomas said that she knows a lot of students are discouraged that this won’t be happening.
“This usually takes place the day before graduation and we get pinned by someone who has been our sole encourager and supporter throughout everything,” she said. “It is sad to think we have poured so many hours of dedication and hard work into this degree, and that’s not getting recognized at this ceremony either. It’s sad to think I won’t get to finish this degree standing alongside all of those I have gone through the hard stuff with.”
Outside of her major, she said that one of the hardest parts is being away from the AU community much earlier than she expected.
“The hardest part for me is knowing I won’t see the community of AU in the same light I’ve seen it in for the past four years,” Thomas said. “I can come back for homecoming weekend and visit from time to time, but it won’t be the same as when I was a student on campus. It’s also hard knowing I’ve done all of my lasts without realizing it. I had my last dinner with the best roommates ever, made my last drink at Mocha’s and had my last staff meeting with my DCs. That’s honestly heartbreaking and so sad.”
She gives credit to the faculty and staff on campus during these challenging times.
“The professors have done a really great job with staying in constant communication with us and showing us they care and are here for us,” Thomas said. “This does make me appreciate my class and our professors so much more because everyone has been so patient, so intentional and so loving throughout all of these changes and this craziness.”