The Spring 2020 semester has been hailed as “unprecedented” by university officials, public health experts, journalists and many others, but perhaps no event has better represented the word than spring commencement.
The Herald spoke with several senior class officers at the University of Wisconsin about the hectic process of transitioning a massive ceremony online and continuing to bring people together in a time when that’s no longer physically possible — and stress about the future abounds.
Director of Communications for the Senior Class Kayla Huynh said the officer team organizes the commencement ceremony along with Chancellor Blank, and they also coordinate the senior class gift, along with other senior events. Huynh said she joined the team because she wanted the opportunity to give back.?
“I wanted to become more involved in some way as a senior, and I just wanted to give back to the campus that I’ve gotten the chance to be a part of for the past four years,” Huynh said.?
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Senior Class President Lauren Sorensen said commencement moving online expanded their roles as class officers, since they now had to build a new kind of ceremony from the ground up.?
Sorensen said they wanted to stay in touch with the student body throughout the year, which helped them make decisions about the ceremony students would support.?
“At the beginning of the year, before this even happened, we wanted to be hyper-cognizant of students’ concerns,” Sorensen said. “So from the beginning, we’ve really just been trying to make sure that students’ voices are being heard and that we are representing what students want.”
Philanthropy Director Sonam Dolma said in an email to The Badger Herald that having to shift so quickly to an online ceremony proved an unprecedented challenge none of them had prepared for. But the whole experience made Sonam more mindful of the time and experiences shared with loved ones.?
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Senior Class Vice President Alyssa Birkeland said despite the challenges, she’s seen lots of people adapt to the situation in unconventional ways.?
“I’ve heard of a lot of that ?— friends Zooming together to watch the ceremony,” Birkeland said. “I still saw people going around their house and going around to take pictures, so it was nice that some of that is still happening ?— obviously not to the extent it usually is, usually the Terrace is just full of people taking pictures in their caps and gowns and when you don’t even have the chairs out, that’s hard. But it was still nice to see people making an effort to celebrate as best as they can.”
Huynh said many graduates face uncertainty in their future ?— many have had jobs or internships cancelled, and others pursuing grad school have faced roadblocks with their applications, like not being able to take the GRE or MCAT.?
Plus, the lack of closure on the semester and their college career has caused grief for a lot of graduates, Huynh said, since they’ve been looking forward to a Camp Randall commencement since starting at UW.?
“It’s just really hard for us, in our final year at UW, to have that taken away from us in such a short notice,” Huynh said. “I think that a lot of people are struggling with this whole transition and not having the sense of closure of leaving campus. And it’s just, it’s hard because I think a lot of us are facing that grief in different ways.”
Sorensen said though it’s a difficult time and entering the workforce in the worst economy in years is stressful, there are still a lot of resources available to graduates feeling scared or uncertain about their future.?
Sorensen said she attended an online livestream with the Wisconsin Alumni Association recently, where several attending seniors expressed the same concerns. Members of the WAA assured graduates they aren’t alone ?— they have a support network through the alumni.
“We have such a rich alumni tradition and alumni are very eager to help students and talk to students and give them advice,” Sorensen said. “I would encourage graduating seniors to use the resources that are available to them. Sign up for BadgerBridge. Check out the alumni chapter in whatever city they’re moving to, because alumni are there and they’re ready to help us when we need it.”
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Lots of notable Badger alumni, including Women’s World Cup soccer champion Rose Lavelle, football player Russell Wilson, Tony award-winner André De Shields and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-WI, posted shoutout videos to the class online, encouraging them and congratulating them for their accomplishments.?
Dolma said despite the stress and uncertainty around graduation this year, the class of 2020 should still take pride in their accomplishments over the last few years.?
“I know that this has been a less-than-ideal culminating semester for all of us, but I commend my fellow Badgers for their resiliency during these turbulent times,” Dolma said. “Commencement is a big milestone for all of us, so I just want to say my heartfelt congratulations to the class of 2020!!! On, Wisconsin!”