Four years, a global pandemic and thousands of dollars later, Kent State students like me sure were looking forward to graduation. Our college experience has been anything but normal and easy, but what kept so many of us going was the chance in May to walk across the stage in front of our friends and families and get to say we made it.
It is nothing short of a miracle that our class of 2022 gets the opportunity to have an in-person graduation ceremony. We started the year hopeful, under the impression that the weekend of May 13 and 14, we would get to throw our caps in the air as a united group. When I applied for graduation in September, the confirmation page told me I would graduate on May 14, 2022. I circled the date in my calendar.
Thousands of us learned on Monday, though, that we’ll have to walk that stage on a Thursday afternoon. For most people, Thursday is part of the work week. With just a few weeks notice before graduation, many of these workers won’t have the opportunity to call off from their jobs that day, let alone the additional time families will need to travel to and from campus for the event.
On what should be a culminating moment for students and their families, the university is taking away the chance for some of us to gather on this momentous day.
While some Kent State colleges will have commencements on May 13 and 14, giving them the chance to celebrate their achievement with their loved ones, certain students have had that chance taken away.
Thousands of us now feel less valued. The message is clear: some opportunities – and some students – matter more to Kent State than others.
The university prides itself on allowing less advantaged students the opportunity to attend school despite financial barriers. Many of our students work full time, and their family members have full-time jobs. Many of our students are from out of state or from towns hours and miles away. The university boasts that 27 percent of students at Kent State are the first in their family to go to college. Many of those first-generation students come from families who make less than half of what the average continuing-generation student’s family makes.
Why should those hardworking students and their families now have to make even more sacrifices so they can celebrate this monumental achievement? How many students will now have no one cheering them on as they walk across that stage?
Nearly every student I’ve talked to after the graduation announcement said they now have family members who can no longer attend their commencement, or who would struggle to even find a way to attend themselves.
According to the university’s spring 2022 enrollment data, approximately 6,262 students are registered as seniors. There are 552 senior students like me in the College of Communication and Information. The College of Nursing has 400 senior students. The College of Aeronautics and Engineering has 302 seniors, the College of Applied and Technical Studies has 141 seniors, the College of Public Health has 173 seniors and the College of the Arts 704. And all of those students are now being forced to accommodate impractical times to get the chance to recognize their years of hard work.
Students in other colleges, like the Ambassador Crawford College of Business and Entrepreneurship and College of Arts and Sciences, were allotted much more opportune times for their commencement ceremonies. The university has not publicly provided the specifics of how many students will be graduating from each college, or how they landed on this specific schedule.
The decision of graduation dates and times was likely made with numbers in mind – how many students are enrolled in each school, how many guests will be attending – but it’s clear to the portion of students assigned to the Thursday graduation, most of whom are in the arts and healthcare fields, that they are not prioritized by Kent State.
By these standards, famous alumni the university touts — including Jeff Richmond, Carol Costello, Arsenio Hall, Connie Schultz and Josh Cribbs — would have been slighted as we have and celebrated their achievement in the absence of their loved ones.
Future medical professionals, essential workers who were deemed the heroes of the pandemic, will walk the stage in the early afternoon on a weekday – a time when many of them would likely be scheduled for clinical rotations, and during their loved ones’ work day.
We as students are endlessly grateful for the opportunity to convene in person to celebrate this momentous occasion. We understand and appreciate the effort and complexity that goes into planning an event like this, especially under the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. We lost nearly half of the spring 2020 semester to the pandemic, and spent most of the 2020-2021 year online, missing out on countless opportunities to connect with our campus community. And now we are robbed of our one moment of normalcy and celebration.
Kent State knows how to do better. Consider the 2016 commencement ceremonies. The university hosted undergraduate commemorations at three different times on Saturday – 9 a.m., 1:30 p.m., and 5:30 p.m. Starting in 2017, Kent State hosted its One University Commencement, where graduates from all of the university colleges attended a single ceremony at Dix Stadium.
The plans for the 2022 ceremonies are reminiscent of those held in 2021. These ceremonies were held throughout the week, likely again at times inconvenient for students and their families, but also at a time when many more people were working remotely and had more opportunity to get off work or attend virtually. We approached our senior year with different expectations of what the university would be able to offer for our graduation ceremony, and gratitude that we would get the chance to celebrate safely in person.
As COVID-19 restrictions continue to be lifted at our university and case counts drop nationwide, it’s finally possible for students and their families to recognize this achievement in person.
A virtual ceremony is being provided for all Kent State graduates at 10 a.m. Sunday, May 14. Why couldn’t time on that Sunday be allotted for the students who now must walk in absence of loved ones on a weekday afternoon?
In anticipation of our graduation, the senior staff members of KentWired were creating a piece reflecting on our favorite memories and triumphs of college. Instead, as with so much of our college experience, we must now concede to disappointment. Here’s what we have to say instead.
What a way to treat students who trusted their university to do better.
If you’re one of the thousands of students getting the short end of the stick here, let our administrators know:
University Events & Protocol
Maddy Haberberger is social media manager. Contact her at [email protected]