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Grads denied convocations during COVID now hit with commencement cancelations amid protests

‘Depriving people of meaningful rituals,’ anthropologist says

Many high school seniors lost the opportunity to attend commencement four years ago due to COVID-19 lockdowns. Now, some of those same students are graduating from college and, once again, missing out on the momentous occasion.

Columbia University, the University of Southern California, Pomona College, and Emory University, among others, recently canceled or modified their commencement ceremonies due to safety concerns after raucous pro-Palestinian protests on campus.

Other recent graduation ceremonies have been disrupted by protesters, including at Duke University, Virginia Commonwealth University, UC Berkeley, Emerson College and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Axios reported.

Taking the place of Columbia’s campus-wide commencement are smaller school ceremonies and Class Days – which the university says will be easier to keep “safe, respectful, and running smoothly.”

Others missed Howard University’s nursing school commencement last week when the venue filled to capacity.

Graduate Halle Ragoonanan said “her heart was broken as she and her family looked to make up for moments they missed because of the pandemic,” NBC Washington reported.

“I didn’t even get to walk,” she told the news outlet. “I didn’t get to walk. I graduated magna cum laude and I didn’t even get to walk. I’m the class of 2020. I didn’t get to walk for my high school graduation and I didn’t get to walk for my college graduation.”

University spokesperson Lydia Sermons told ABC 13 News they never had a problem with overcrowding in the past.  Sermons said the 2024 class is the largest in the university’s history, and they believe more families attended than is typical because COVID prevented them from seeing their students graduate from high school. Some family members banged on windows demanding to be let it, prompting the event to be canceled.

The private, Washington D.C. university also issued an apology and added an extra ceremony for the nursing students who could not attend the first commencement.

Dimitris Xygalatas, an anthropology professor at the University of Connecticut, said graduation ceremonies are important cultural and personal experiences, and universities should be cautious about cancellations.

“From personal milestones such as birthdays and weddings to societal changes like the transfer of government power, all major transitions are shrouded in ceremony,” Xygalatas wrote at The Conversation. “The fact that these rituals occur without exception in all human societies highlights their importance.”

Responding to the recent cancelations, he said administrators may be making “a bad situation worse,” because “depriving people of meaningful rituals can lead to disillusionment and social disengagement.”

College graduation can be one of the most important points in a person’s life; their lifestyle, their relationships, and their role in society all change, he said.

“Graduation ceremonies embody not only the sacredness of education and the importance of student achievements, but also graduates’ bonds to their institution and fellow students. In that capacity, such gatherings may be needed more than ever in a context fraught with division,” Xygalatas said.

MORE: Pro-Palestinian students walk out on Seinfeld commencement speech at Duke

IMAGE: Ljupco Smokovski / Shutterstock

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About the Author
Micaiah Bilger is an assistant editor at The College Fix.