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Rutgers seniors share thoughts on U. decision to hold commencements virtually

Some Rutgers seniors said they think it would be possible to hold the commencement ceremonies in person, but it would come at the cost of people's safety. – Photo by The Daily Targum

University President Jonathan Holloway recently announced his decision to hold all spring commencement ceremonies virtually due to safety concerns surrounding the ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, The Daily Targum previously reported. Rutgers seniors shared their thoughts regarding this decision.

“My initial thoughts were (of) disappointment but with a bit of relief,” said Gaurav Deshpande, a Rutgers Business School senior. “I was expecting to hear this, and I knew that the best course of action would be to keep commencement and other graduation activities virtual.”

Benjamin Taylor, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said he was also relieved to hear this announcement.

“Many of us live far away from the campus since we all moved out last spring, so it doesn't surprise me that a virtual commencement will be held, especially since we didn't move back to school this semester,” he said.

Taylor also said that he has personally lost people throughout the pandemic and that anything that can be done to reduce the threat of COVID-19, such as canceling ceremonies, should be done.

While there was some initial disappointment at this announcement, many students, like Skanda Rao, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, believed that the University made the right decision.

“Our class size is just too large to host an event like this without any violation of social distancing guidelines, and we’ve already seen the (virus reproduction rate) go above (one) in the Rutgers area when students became too comfortable violating these guidelines in large gatherings,” he said.

As of yesterday, approximately 13.3 percent of New Jerseyans have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, with approximately 5.9 percent having gotten both doses, according to The New York Times.

Despite the optimism surrounding New Jersey’s vaccination efforts, health experts have indicated that the state will still not be able to safely accommodate large gatherings in the spring, even in an outdoor setting, Holloway said, the Targum previously reported.

Both Rao and Taylor said they believe that an in-person graduation could have been held but also said that it would have most likely not been safe.

“No matter how well planned it is to make sure seating and walking paths are constructed with adequate distance for a well-behaved group (which is already close to impossible to achieve), the event organizers cannot control (more than) 10,000 students to keep them from breaking rules for the event,” Rao said.

Deshpande said he believed the decision was made at the right time since it is unlikely that between now and May the situation surrounding vaccinations will be very different. Rao also said the timing was right since it is better that students know of such news as early as possible.

“I’m sure they had more information than any of us and made the appropriate decision at the time,” Taylor said. “Often, (the University does) not make good decisions at all, but in this case, it seems correct.”

Though, there are Rutgers community members who believe the decision was not correct, with more than 1,300 people signing a petition, created approximately two weeks ago, asking Holloway to rethink the decision.

Holloway said each campus is currently determining how to best honor graduates remotely and said he is hoping to conduct in-person events later in the year for both 2020 and 2021 graduates, according to the Targum.

Overall, Rao said that he sympathizes with everyone who feels like they are losing an experience, as he himself feels like he did not get the full college experience as well.

“Not having an in-person commencement feels like my college years are ending in a whimper, and suddenly, I’m out in the real world without any symbolic transition or celebration,” he said. “Still, I don’t see an alternative here. I have a lot of criticisms of the way that Rutgers has handled this year … but I don’t think this particular criticism is a fair one. Here, Rutgers acted responsibly to avoid contributing (toward) unsafe practices among its students.”

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