Campus Beat Reporter
On May 28, UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) Chancellor Henry Yang announced that the class of 2020’s virtual graduation ceremony would be open for viewing on the UCSB website on Saturday, June 13 at 9 a.m. Though a date for the in-person ceremony has yet to be established, Yang still intends to hold one once conditions become safe enough.
Two months ago, Yang sent out an email detailing the need to postpone the in-person commencement ceremony due to the COVID-19 outbreak. However, as of May 26, Governor Gavin Newsom’s Health Officer Order states that schools can hold in-person graduations so long as they fall under the following criteria:
- All graduations must remain outdoors.
- People attending must stay in their own vehicles during the event.
- All vehicles remain at least six feet apart.
- No diplomas, awards, or accolades will be handed directly to new graduates.
While some local high schools, including Dos Pueblos High School and San Marcos High School, have been able to improvise in-person drive-in style graduations, the provisions needed to accommodate such a ceremony at UCSB would be too great to hold an in-person commencement as early as June. Last year, UCSB celebrated 6,867 graduating students, which is approximately 12 times the average number of students in a graduating class at a high school.
In Yang’s email, he outlined a brief schedule for the ceremony, which will include the display of personalized graduate slides and remarks from academic leadership and this year’s student speaker. Graduation regalia, caps, and gowns are also still available for purchase at the Campus Store. Though the virtual commencement ceremony does not share the same flourish and anticipation as walking down the stage at graduation, Yang also announced that this year’s celebration would feature a song dedicated to the class of 2020 by UCSB alumnus Jack Johnson. This ceremony will mark Johnson’s first time revisiting the UCSB community since 2015.
“Personally congratulating and shaking the hand of each of our graduates is my favorite campus tradition,” said Yang in his most recent email discussing commencement plans for the class of 2020. “[It’s] one I look forward to sharing with you together in person in the future when we can welcome you, your families, and friends back to campus to share the commencement stage.”
In addition to an altered commencement, COVID-19 has uprooted students’ lives in some of the most dramatic and upsetting ways. In addition to forcing students to leave campus, face rent insecurity, and navigate a less-than-promising job market, the pandemic has confined graduating seniors to spend their last few (and by popular opinion, the most memorable) months at UCSB in near isolation. Many student graduates this year have stated they feel as if they’ve been cheated out of several experiences that cannot be easily replicated in the future.
“I didn’t get to do a lot of my last activities as a senior, like participating in Deltopia or Extravaganza one last time, or spending my nights with all of my friends before I leave,” said Jennifer Manning, fourth-year environmental studies major with a minor in education. “It’s made my last few months in Isla Vista sad, but also reflective on the good times I’ve had here.”
Some students have innovated creative ways to preserve and honor their experiences this year. Reddit user u/TheNotSecretSpy created the UCSB Scavenger Hunt on the r/UCSantaBarbara subreddit, where they launched their series, Shelter in Place. Shelter in Place features unique homes, murals, dye tables, and landmarks of Isla Vista. In the user’s first post, they explained that the series is intended for students “to pretend that [they] are still [there], living a normal life.” A few students on the Facebook page Free & For Sale have even provided quotes for professional senior photos in graduation regalia so that they can get tangible quality memories of UCSB as the spring quarter comes to a close.
Some additional opportunities have been provided for seniors, as well. Next year, the Associated Students Program Board will allow the class of 2020 to come to the Extravaganza festival 2021.
Many graduates are disappointed that they’ll have to wait to walk at graduation, yet many students appreciate the opportunity to eventually have an in-person ceremony in the future. While the time frame to be anticipated for the in-person graduation is still uncertain, most students are ultimately looking forward to it.
“I feel like I would rather wait for the in-person since it seems more legitimate and special,” said fourth-year sociology major Madison Kirkpatrick. “My whole family was looking forward to it, and now we are not sure when it’ll happen. I hope it happens soon. Having a virtual graduation is nice, but who doesn’t love in-person? It would give me some closure on the experience.”
Interviews have been lightly edited for clarity. To watch the virtual graduation ceremony on June 13, visit https://www.ucsb.edu/2020-virtual-celebration.