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Seniors heartbroken by canceled commencement ceremony in May

As the COVID-19 pandemic is sweeping through the world, one thing has become painfully obvious for seniors across the country: commencement will not be happening. The moment that many students have been looking forward to for almost four years is gone, swept away by the chances of infection from a dangerous disease. Lewis & Clark was just one of hundreds of colleges and universities across the U.S. that have decided to cancel its traditional commencement ceremony. 

So far, it has been established that the Memorial Coliseum has confirmed the cancelation of the official commencement. However, according to the Vice President of Student Life and Dean of Students Robin Holmes-Sullivan, there may be a chance that a smaller graduation could be held on the football field. Holmes-Sullivan relayed this information through a general webinar she held for all LC parents.  

Although students have received information about all large events being canceled, the seniors have not received any information from LC specifically about graduation.

Biftu Sultan ’20 is a Portland native whose parents immigrated from Ethiopia over 20 years ago. The biochemistry and microbiology major is the eldest in her family and was excited to share that moment of celebration with them. 

“It’s not just about me anymore,” Sultan said. “It was supposed to be a milestone, a moment for our parents to see everything they worked hard for come to fruition.”

According to Sultan, it was not just about walking across that stage anymore for a diploma, but rather her whole family celebrating her achievements that she managed through their support. And now that moment may be lost to the pandemic. 

Vice President of Student Life Robin Holmes-Sullivan emailed some LC parents notifying them that the Memorial Coliseum commencement was canceled. The administration is still thinking about holding a smaller ceremony on campus for those who can make it. But the school is still waiting to see how the crisis develops. 

“We can’t promise anything,” Holmes-Sullivan said.

However, it is important to note that the email did not reach all LC senior parents. Many seniors found out about the canceled commencement either through friends or the official commencement webpage.

According to LC President Wim Wiewel, the administration is determined to do something to celebrate the senior class. Although the Memorial Coliseum commencement will definitely not happen, Wiewel stated that the senior speakers have already been taped and are awaiting selection.

“We can webcast that (senior) speech, we will webcast the ceremonial piece, even if that means me sitting in my office by myself and a camera person … we will have a ceremonial event.” Wiewel said. 

Wiewel also stated that students should not worry about travel plans if they planned to return for a possible ceremony. “All I can say is that I think there will be a lot of cheap flights and empty hotel rooms available for last minute reservations,” he said.

Annika Clunk ’20 hails from Arizona. An economics major who was also on the school’s golf team, Clunk had a lot riding on graduation. 

“This is all too surreal,” Clunk said. “I never thought I would have this situation where I couldn’t walk for my graduation.”

For Clunk, graduation was about celebrating four years of hard work and athleticism, But her senior year and graduation were also about her being able to present her thesis with her class. Since January, she and many other upperclassmen have been toiling over their passions and preparing it for the world. Now that moment may never come for them. 

“Everything went wrong so quickly,” Clunk said.

This is not to say that LC seniors do not recognize the significance of what is going on in the world. Aisha Kheir ’20, a psychology major and pre-med student, understands that the health of students and their families always comes first. 

“There are people whose health would’ve been at risk if big events were to happen,” Kheir said. “And the school did the best that they could.” 

Sultan and Clunk also echoed these sentiments. Both students had elderly grandparents who were planning on attending the ceremony, and they did not want to put them at risk. However, all three also wished the school had been more transparent with them and notified seniors about this decision directly.

“We’re still waiting for an email explanation on graduation,” Sultan said. 

To them, it seems as though four years of backbreaking effort is being swept under the rug by the school. According to these students, a notification would have eased many of these students’ worries that they had been forgotten. 

And in the grand scheme of things, many realize that this is just a part of life. However, in times of panic, clutching onto the familiar can also be a helpful coping mechanism.

“You only graduate college once,” Clunk said, a sad sentiment echoed by seniors across the world.

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