WILKES-BARRE, Pa. – With national health officials extending guidelines for social distancing until at least April 30, Wilkes University has postponed the Class of 2020’s commencement ceremony.
“It is becoming increasingly clear that we cannot hold commencement on May 16,” shared interim president Dr. Paul S. Adams in his April 1 announcement. “This is not what any of us wanted, but it is the best option to continue to keep our campus community healthy and safe.”
Adams’ announcement follows Wilkes’ decision to extend remote learning through the remainder of the spring semester.
Despite the postponement, Adams wants graduates and their families to understand that the university is committed to holding a ceremony – on campus and in person – when the time is right. A date will be announced once there is more clarity regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
Caps and gowns will be mailed to each graduate’s home address in preparation for the eventual ceremony. Although the spring commencement ceremony has been delayed, the date on which degrees are conferred (May 16) will remain unchanged for students who have met their academic requirements.
Yet, there are still concerns for graduates regarding the feasibility of a commencement ceremony at a later date.
“If it’s late in the summer or in the fall, how many students will have moved out of the northeast, have jobs that preclude them from participating or just simply won’t care anymore,” questioned Eric Beideman, a senior sports management student whose final spring baseball season was cut short due to the pandemic as well.
Beideman is not alone, as senior Matt Finnegan emphasized that the time lost between friends has been the most difficult component for him to grapple with.
“Cutting the semester short has been rough just because I know that some of my friends are heading in different directions after Wilkes, so seeing them less will be tough,” shared the political science major.
Taylor Hubiak, a senior management and marketing double major, claimed that the hardest part regarding all of the changes for the Class of 2020 was how out of the blue everything has been.
“There was no time to mentally prepare for it to be the end. It feels like everything was ripped away so suddenly,” said Hubiak. “We had plans and hopes and expectations that we thought we had time to fulfill. I would have done more in the last few months if I knew.”
The celebratory conclusion graduates are usually afforded in their final semester has been replaced with uncertainty, relative boredom and a lingering sadness.
Additionally, the implications expand beyond Wilkes’ commencement ceremony. How these graduates are coping with an unprecedented end to their academic careers is another point of concern.
“The class that started pre-kindergarten the same week that the twin towers fell will now finish their educational journey concurrently with a crisis, the likes of which we have never before seen in this country’s history,” explained Beideman. “We’ll be searching for jobs in a looming and unavoidable recession, which will most likely rival the crashes of ’08 and ’87.”
Although these aren’t ideal circumstances, Beideman asserts that the Class of 2020 will persevere. As digital natives, he explained, this generation is accustomed to teaching themselves new things and finding a way.
As far as the delayed commencement ceremony, graduates are grateful that they are still getting the opportunity to walk, unlike countless other schools who have cancelled their ceremonies altogether.
“I’m happy knowing we will still get to walk and celebrate because I have been looking forward to this since I came to Wilkes – since I decided to go to college, really,” shared Hubiak. “I wish I was coming back to Wilkes. I feel like I didn’t finish everything I wanted to on campus. For the first time, I’m wishing I had more years of college. Who would have thought I’d say that?”
The university’s decision to postpone commencement has left students optimistic that they will be honored and will be able to celebrate all they have accomplished during their time at Wilkes, even if the ceremony itself never carried as great a weight before this pandemic as it does now.
“Graduation isn’t too big of a deal to me personally, but I really hope we can still do something to celebrate our achievements,” said Finnegan. “Knowing it hasn’t been cancelled gives me hope that something will be done to recognize our hard work when doing so would not be risking the health of the community.”
Finnegan’s sentiments represent the mindset of numerous Wilkes graduates – hopeful – hopeful that they will get to see their friends on Wilkes’ campus once again; hopeful that they will in fact get to have a commencement ceremony; and hopeful that they will overcome the difficulties of entering the job market.
“To the Class of 2020, our hearts are with you,” shared Adams in the final lines of his message from the President’s Office. “Commencement and the events leading up to it mean so much to you and your families, to our faculty and staff and to me personally. That is why we are absolutely committed to holding a ceremony – with all of the fanfare to which Wilkes students are accustomed – when it is safe to do so.”
Updates will continue to be sent out through the Wilkes University email system. For those interested in additional information, www.wilkes.edu/coronavirus can be visited.