Pomp and absence
With the rest of the spring semester moved online, her graduation was the only thing Tannah Blair, an accounting major in Virginia Tech’s class of 2020, had to look forward to.
“When they made the announcement that graduation was canceled and was being moved online, I was beyond devastated,” Blair says.
Due to the COVID-19 crisis, Virginia colleges and universities postponed, canceled or moved their ceremonies online — essentially evaporating the 2020 commencement season.
Tech last canceled commencement in 1917, when the U.S. entered World War I, says Ann Brown, director of strategic communications for Tech’s libraries. Back then, more than 50% of the graduating class left to receive training at the Fort Myer Army post in Arlington County.
In late March, Virginia Tech President Tim Sands sent a message to graduates alerting them that their 2020 graduation ceremony would be held virtually on May 15. Keynote speakers will include Miss America 2020 Camille Schrier, a Tech alumna. He also invited graduates and two guests to a tailgate before the Sept. 26 home football game with an “Enter Sandman” — the Metallica song played at the beginning of each Tech home game — entrance into the stadium in place of the May commencement ceremony.
Nearly 7,000 Hokies were originally expected to fill Lane Stadium for spring commencement, says university spokesman Bill Foy.
“I’m not expecting much from this virtual graduation they are planning, nor the special event they have proposed to us in the fall,” Blair says. “It’s all just very disappointing and I feel that myself and my class of 2020 are not going to be properly recognized for our accomplishments, as well as the hardships we are experiencing during our last semester of college.”
Students can also attend either the commencement ceremony planned for December 2020 or spring 2021.
“It would be great to schedule a commencement [for the class of 2020], but the reality is we need time to do that and everyone who would want to participate would also need time for planning,” Sands said during an April virtual town hall. “We decided that it just didn’t make sense to organize something that we thought might have to be postponed, maybe many times.”
The University of Virginia and James Madison University, among others, opted to postpone 2020 commencement ceremonies. And some, like George Mason University, postponed it indefinitely.
“As things got worse, I knew it was inevitable,” Blair says. “But I held out hope that they would reschedule it rather than canceling.”