Nearly 6,000 Iowa State University students are expected to participate in a virtual commencement ceremony following the university’s decision to cancel spring commencement due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was a really hard decision for Iowa State to cancel the commencement ceremony,” said Jennifer Suchan, university registrar at ISU.
Despite not being able to meet in person for commencement this weekend, every graduating student requested “CYlebration Gifts” from the registrar’s office — 5,523, in total.
The gifts include totems of the traditional commencement ceremony: a diploma cover, a postcard message from ISU President Wendy Wintersteen, an insert with a gift from the Alumni Association, a souvenir tassel and a streamer tube to be able to shoot off. The university will also mail students diplomas, the commencement program, for those who are eligible, honor cords.
Emily Zahruones, a senior, felt the decision to cancel was made too early, noting at the time she “didn’t know a lot about the pandemic.”
Zahruones said spring commencement was set to be a big event for her and her family, as she’s the oldest child and her father is an ISU alum.
“I think I’m okay with it now,” Zahruones said. “I have really supportive people in my life who take graduation photos, and the university sent over the CYlebration gift, and it makes it feel more personal.”
Suchan said that in the virtual commencement, students will be able to watch a video showcasing a series of elements typically featured during the traditional ceremony, including:An address by Wintersteen.A performance of “Cyclone Fantasia” as well as the National Anthem by Simon Estes.Recognition of students graduating with distinction.Recognition of students who have served, are serving, or will serve in the military following graduation.The conferral of degrees.
“Each of the colleges has identified a student marshal, just like we do with every ceremony,” Suchan said. “We will share the student marshal’s name, their hometown, and a headshot of them. Each of the student marshals typically has a bio read about them, and that will be part of a separate video.”
The ceremony will wrap up with the singing of “The Bells of Iowa State,” Suchan said.
Additionally, the names of students graduating from the College of Veterinary Medicine and the Graduate College will be displayed in a larger video, she said.
“For our undergraduate students, because of the sheer number, we can’t put the names of all of those graduates within the video,” she said. “So we are creating a second, separate video where the name readers are reading all of the names of the undergrad(s). You can navigate within the video and if you know you’re graduating from the Ivy College of Business, you can go to (that section), and they will be in alphabetical order by last name.”
Beginning Saturday, students can visit the central website — https://www.graduation.iastate.edu/ — where they can view the videos with their family during a time that works for them, she said.
“We had talked about doing a livestream, but knowing we have students literally all over the world, we knew that anytime we did it just wouldn’t work for everyone,” Suchan said. “That’s why we wanted to go with the pre-recorded experience, plus we didn’t want to run into any (livestream) issues and they can’t experience it, or it doesn’t work for their family for whatever reason.
“We wanted it to be something they could do at a time that works for them.”
While the various colleges will not be able to hold receptions, Suchan said each college will hold a unique “graduation celebration,” which will later be posted on the central website for ISU’s graduation.
The option of meeting again in the fall for an in-person ceremony is not off the table for the ISU Class of 2020, she said.
“We certainly don’t know how many students will be participating in the virtual ceremony, but we sure hope a lot,” Suchan said. “Everybody who is graduating in the spring is absolutely welcome to come to future ceremonies.
“Only time is going to tell how many of them want to participate … but if we would have enough participation in terms of the spring class who want to come to the fall ceremony, we would probably hold a separate ceremony for all of those spring students if there was enough. Otherwise we would just fold them into the regular ceremony.”
Vincent Valeriano, a ISU senior studying marketing, plans to tune in this weekend with his sister, maybe during breakfast, he said.
“I know that a lot of people are going to be comparing online commencement with what it would be like in person, and my thought is that (it’s) a pretty unfair comparison,” Valeriano said. “Given the circumstances of everything going on, I know President Wintersteen and her team are doing their best to make sure we feel cared for, so maybe some people will have gripes about the online ceremony, but for what its worth, I think it’s worth celebrating in its own way, and not comparing to what it would have been in person.”