COVID-19 delays recognition for first-generation seniors

Photo+courtesy+of+Sara+Larson

Photo courtesy of Sara Larson

Akasha Khalsa

In the midst of the corona-virus pandemic, graduating seniors face a difficult prospect: their graduation ceremony must be postponed until large group gatherings are approved by the CDC. And for first generation graduates, this ceremony holds deeper meaning Senior English and Spanish major Sara Larson explained the significance of her own long-awaited day. Her family has sent another child to college, but she is the only child that reached graduation.

“I’m the first to have gone this far,” Larson said. “I was looking forward to having my parents watch me go across the stage because I’m the only child out of all of my step-siblings or my half brothers who will have a degree—and they’re going to miss out on that.” Board of Trustees Chair Steve Mitchell said he understands just how crucial the day of commencement is for students who may have been awaiting the ceremony for the length of their schooling.

“Having been a first-generation college student myself when I graduated, it was even more meaningful,” Mitchell said.“We understand it’s very significant to first-generation parents. The only thing we can do is
move forward and make sure we have a meaningful commencement for everybody.” Mitchell said, even with the COVID crisis, commencement will be merely postponed. As soon as Governor Gretchen Whitmer becomes able to lift restrictions on large group gatherings, Mitchell said NMU intends to schedule the ceremony.

This may occur as soon as May 1, and he hopes it will occur before the conclusion of summer, but he said he is unable to speculate on a date at the moment. When the university does schedule commencement, it will communicate directly with seniors over email to let them know the plans/ NMU may televise or stream graduation for those who will not be there.

This came as a relief to Larson, who had remained unsure whether the ceremony would happen at all. If it happens during the summer, she said she would be able to attend. “But other people won’t,” Larson said. “I’ve got friends who are graduating who were looking forward to maybe going out and getting a drink or something to celebrate.”

Regardless of attendance at the ceremony, each graduate will be forwarded their diploma, Mitchell said. He has already provided his signature for the
certificates.

“For seniors this year, their senior year was stolen from them by a virus they had never heard of when the semester started. They were unable to do all the things that you do in spring semester,” Mitchell said. “All the things you would anticipate—the graduation parties and the goodbyes, the saying goodbye to their friends, that was stolen from them and it’s really tragic.”

Larson said she was looking forward to connecting with the professors who had helped her through her time as an undergraduate, as well as participating in the events which should have been a part of her last months as a senior at NMU.

“It’s definitely been frustrating, especially because there were events I was looking forward to participating in before I went off to grad school,” Larson said. “There was going to be the Spanish day on campus with all the high schoolers coming, and I was looking forward to it; it’s something I look forward to every year. And that got canceled. I was so disappointed, it was
going to be my last chance to be able to do it.”

With the intention of reopening as usual in the coming fall, with in-person classes and regular functioning, the university hopes to get back on track by providing a “first-class commencement.”

The Speaker at commencement will be Dr. Thomas Zur Bucken, who runs the unmanned space flight programs at NASA and was previously appointed as a board member of NMU. “He’s a tremendous speaker and a brilliant guy,” Mitchell said.

“[He] will move earth and heaven himself to be able to come up and speak to the graduates, and I think he will be a very meaningful speaker for them
because of his background. He loves Marquette and he loves Northern.”