One of the reasons we chose Wake Forest was for its traditions. We were attracted to the school spirit that’s encapsulated in rolling the quad or in the playing of Wait Chapel’s bells everyday at 5 p.m. As underclassmen, we eagerly followed preparations for commencement each spring on social media, dreaming of the day when countless long days and nights in the library would finally culminate in walking across the stage on the upper quad.
We speculated at length about who our commencement speaker might be, and when the university sent out a survey in the fall for suggestions, we spammed it with the names of people who we’d love to send us off into the world, from primatologist Jane Goodall to author David Sedaris. Never did we fully contemplate the possibility that we might not have a commencement speaker at all.
As second semester seniors, we were looking forward to all the traditions that come with this special time: senior send-off, LDOC, all of our personal ‘lasts’ and ‘goodbyes,’ signing our names in the top of the chapel and finally seeing those infamous tunnels.
With COVID-19 overtaking our country, we know we might not ever be able to participate in those traditions or even see the Magnolias bloom on campus once more. And that’ll be okay — so long as the class of 2020 is granted an eventual commencement ceremony (and maybe the chance to travel the tunnels or go into the top of the chapel).
The global pandemic and its requisite “social distancing” has reminded many of us seniors of the most precious aspect of our Wake Forest experience: relationships. To be torn away from our relationships without warning — whether with our best friends, mere acquaintances or professors — is a deeply painful experience. As a result, the greatest gift Wake Forest could give the class of 2020 would be to let us say goodbye to those important to us on a joyful, celebratory note rather than an anxious, uncertain one. By far the best way this could be accomplished would be with one last time of togetherness on the campus we all love.
While many colleges around the country are cancelling their commencement ceremonies or are moving them online, a handful have postponed their ceremonies instead. One such college is right down the road in Durham. (If you need another hint, we beat them in basketball earlier this semester, 113-101). The president of Duke University, Vincent Price, announced on March 18 that their university would be postponing their commencement ceremonies, originally scheduled for May 10.
Price affirmed the need for commencement as a memorable celebration of graduates’ accomplishments, particularly after we all face disruptions to our daily lives caused by the pandemic.
“These circumstances will be particularly distressing for the class of 2020, who have been robbed of your final few months with classmates and friends at Duke,” Price wrote. “I share your disappointment — and sadness — that our campus will remain quiet this spring, without the joyful celebration that marks the passage of another year.”
“For all of these reasons, I am resolutely committed to an in-person recognition of the Class of 2020,” Price continued. “Commencement will surely take place, and here on campus. And while we are still in the early stages of exploring possible dates and details of this ceremony, rest assured that it will reflect the indelible mark that this class has left on Duke.”
Reading Price’s commitment to the class of 2020 and seeing other colleges and universities commit to eventually hosting a commencement ceremony, we expect no less from Nathan Hatch and other top Wake Forest administrators.
We know nothing is fair in our world right now. And, yes, we do feel robbed of the last of our senior year of college and everything that was supposed to come with it. But we want commencement to happen at a later date not to make up for anything lost, but so that we all have something to look forward to. We need a little bit of hope right now, especially that we can come back together and celebrate our community. We promise, if commencement is postponed, those who are able to will come.
So, we implore the Wake Forest administration: Don’t cancel commencement. And please, don’t virtualize it either. Any “online” commencement would make a mockery of the campus community we have grown to love, our hard work and contributions and the bond of the class of 2020.
Let us leave Wake Forest as Demon Deacons have for many years before us: together, through the arch on the quad.