While many campus events were canceled or moved to a virtual platform last semester and this semester due to COVID-19, AU still held an in-person commencement for the 2020 graduating class.
Although it looked quite different from previous commencements due to the numerous guidelines and precautions, it allowed graduates a bit of closure in such an unprecedented and confusing time.
Commencement was originally scheduled to take place in May. Some colleges and universities like Ball State University canceled the event completely or held it virtually. Many others, such as Indiana Wesleyan University, Huntington University and AU chose to reschedule.
AU 2020 graduates were honored in-person on Sunday, October 18th at 1:30 pm in Reardon Auditorium. Appropriate precautions were taken to ensure safety for everyone.
Each graduate was allowed a limit of two guests to maintain social distancing. The event was also livestreamed and recorded for anyone unable to attend.
The livestream could be viewed from home or in one of the overflow areas on campus, Hartung 101, Byrum Hall and York Performance Hall. Every graduate and guest was required to wear a mask at all times and socially distance.
In deciding how to hold commencement, safety was top priority. President John Pistole explained what went into making that decision.
“We had extensive discussions among the Cabinet, the Registrar’s Office, the COVID-19 Task Force, Marketing and Communications and others to assess two key issues: could we host an in-person Commencement in the safest way possible? If yes, how would we need to modify the service to mitigate risk, knowing we can’t eliminate risk?”
Pistole continued, stating that, based on the Indiana Governor’s directives and the Madison County Health Department’s input, AU decided an in-person combined Commencement and baccalaureate service would be possible with the appropriate modifications and precautions.
AU also took a survey of 2020 graduates after the May event was canceled to better understand the preferred form of commencement. Pistole explained that the survey revealed the importance of an in-person service to the graduates and that Homecoming would be the best time.
The service was different in many ways, but none of which compromised the purpose.
Speakers included Baccalaureate Speaker Ann Smith and Congresswoman Susan Brooks who, instead of speaking in-person, graciously recorded messages that were shown in the service.
2020 graduate Sarah Arnold spoke on her feelings toward the rescheduling.
“I’m honestly so grateful it was rescheduled,” said Arnold. “I was homeschooled and didn’t get a graduation with the ceremony, cap and gown and everything else that comes with graduating, and I was so excited to get to do that for my college graduation. It feels like I’m getting at least part of the closure to my college career that I need.”
Arnold is one of the 130-some graduates who attended Commencement this weekend. She explained that, while this was not exactly how she pictured her graduation, she is grateful for the opportunity.
Many graduates, including Arnold, were incredibly grateful for the decision to reschedule Commencement as opposed to canceling completely or hosting the event virtually.
“There was so much about the last semester of my senior year that felt and still feels up in the air,” said Arnold. “I was a musical theatre major, and we didn’t get to do our last show, which was extremely disappointing, and I couldn’t do my senior recital. Losing commencement felt like just another thing that didn’t end as it was supposed to, and I didn’t feel much—if any—closure for my senior year, which is why I’m so grateful they rescheduled and gave us graduated seniors the opportunity to have at least a little closure in this crazy new world we live in.”