The end of May is typically a time when parents and supporters gather on the quad under a bright blue sky to watch Santa Rosa Junior College students walk across the graduation stage, sometimes as the first in their family to don a cap and gown and earn a diploma.
Not this year. Due to the coronavirus, students and their families are left with a series of digital substitutes.
A graduation slideshow featuring graduates’ photos and favorite quotes will be available at 7 p.m. Friday, May 22 on the graduation webpage. Career Technical Education will hold a virtual graduation for its certificate recipients at 5 p.m. May 22 at live.santarosa.edu; and a pre-recorded and live-streamed virtual graduation ceremony will air at 9 a.m. May 23 on the JC website to honor all of the JC’s 1,700 graduates receiving some 2,300 degrees.
As one of those 1,700, Jesse Kapukui was looking forward to walking this semester after earning his associate degree in journalism.
“It felt like a rare opportunity to be celebrated for all the hard work I put in as a student,” the 20-year-old said.
The ceremony itself meant so much to his family that they hadn’t planned any extra celebrations. Nothing seemed necessary outside the formal pomp and circumstance.
“Just being present for it was a huge event they were looking forward to,” Kapukui said, “because I’m the first person in my family to go to college.”
In an email to students, SRJC President Dr. Frank Chong recognized the disappointing change.
“While we know that an online ceremony can’t take the place of walking across the graduation stage, we feel that it is more important than ever to celebrate the accomplishments of our dedicated students, who have worked hard to graduate in the face of unprecedented challenges,” he wrote.
In an effort to assuage students’ and parents’ fear-of-missing-out, administrators invited 2020 graduates to attend next year’s in-person ceremony.
The decisions to go virtual and offer students the chance to walk a year later stems from a survey SRJC officials sent to students asking for their graduation preferences.
The survey’s author, Megan Rhodes, said 57% of respondents preferred rescheduling the graduation ceremony for a later date, 24% wanted to hold a virtual ceremony on the original date of May 23, and 19% wanted to cancel the ceremony permanently.
But when students were asked to indicate their second choice, Rhodes said almost 50% said they wanted SRJC to hold a virtual ceremony.
Changes like these are ubiquitous now, with colleges, universities and even kindergartens moving their graduation ceremonies online, and students have to choose whether the digital version is worth it.
For Kapukui, it’s not. He will not attend any of SRJC’s virtual graduation ceremonies, but he will still transfer in the fall to a four-year university — one with classes that are likely to be all online.