Senior Maria Zambrano was upset to hear that the University of Minnesota's commencement ceremony was canceled.
“When you’re actually there, and when you’re surrounded by everyone else [who] is able to accomplish something within these four years, and especially having your family there ...you can’t describe that moment, you can’t," Zambrano said.
But now that commencement is only postponed, she is more hopeful.
President Joan Gabel announced Tuesday that the University's 2020 commencement ceremony is postponed, backtracking on her previous statement that the spring ceremony would no longer occur. The University is now seeking student feedback for an alternative commencement ceremony.
“I have heard from many of you about the unique importance of commencement ceremonies to you and your families. Please know that I take your comments to heart,” Gabel said in an email to the University.
Gabel’s announcement came as the coronavirus pandemic escalated, with the state of Minnesota confirming 77 coronavirus cases as of Wednesday. Gabel emphasized the safety of all University community members and said that students who fulfill the requirements will still earn their degree.
University students circulated a Change.org petition asking the University to reschedule commencement rather than cancel it. The petition has received about 7,500 signatures as of Wednesday.
Many students expressed their resentment over the cancelation because it is not only an important moment for them but also for their families. Many international students consider commencement as their chance to introduce Minnesota and the University to their parents.
University first-generation student Omar Vega will be the first member of his family to graduate from college, and his grandmother was planning on coming from Mexico to witness the moment. Vega said that though it is nice Gabel made the announcement, with so much uncertainty in the air, he doesn’t know if it matters.
“Knowing that I would be the first one within our family to walk across that stage, I know meant a lot for [my family], so it does sadden me,” Vega said. “But I won’t allow that to define me or our future.”
However, many parents have canceled their trips to the U.S. within the past couple weeks due to the pandemic.
University psychology senior Maddie Eggenberger said that when she heard commencement was canceled, she shared the petition link, and emailed the Office of President and the College of Liberal Arts Dean John Coleman with the hope of rescheduling the ceremony instead of canceling it.
“I had a lot of people messaging me about how sad they were, and we were all so happy to hear the new decision to postpone the ceremonies instead of canceling them,” Eggenberger said. “None of us care when the ceremony is as long as one takes place. I am a proud Gopher after President Gabel changed her mind, and I feel seen by my school.”
From 2018-2019, more than 8,000 University students earned bachelor's degrees and around 3,400 gained their master's degrees from the University, according to the Office of Institutional Research.
The decision to postpone commencement and in-person classes is also affecting the international student community as they figure out what it means for them, as students are encouraged to not stay on campus if they have alternate housing. Many international students who do not have alternative housing in the U.S. are scrambling to find flights back home.
University senior Wenjun Ping from China said the pandemic prevented her parents from getting a travel visa to the U.S. Though Ping said she felt frustrated at first, she now values her family’s health in the first place.
“To be honest, I felt very frustrated at first since the graduation ceremony is considered to be one of the biggest events among these years having undergraduate education,” Ping said. “But recently, I’ve realized that it is not a bad thing that they cannot be here. Even [I] myself would not be in the ceremony because it’s too risky for many people to gather around in a stadium.”
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated Omar Vega' pronoun. Vega' pronoun is he/him/his.