Bring back our in-person graduation


Graduation was cancelled six months ago, it's time that the Uni revisited their decision

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Image by Nic McPhee

By Alex Thompson

It’s finally snuck up on me, the end of my degree. Yet despite the fact that assessments have been submitted, farewell events attended and dissertation photos snapped, I’m still lacking any real sense of closure and I know I’m not alone. Due to the University’s inflexible attitude towards graduation, students have been left with a distinctly underwhelming end to their time at University.

The past year has left a huge gap in the University experience of graduating students, who are left with no real option other than an awkward wave goodbye to seminar tutors on Zoom and posting an Instagram story of the ‘anonymous assignment submitted’ screen on the VLE. It’s just not quite the farewell we all expected to our degrees; the past few years of University have been tough enough for some, and these virtual goodbyes don’t quite have the same sense of closure. Right now, it feels like getting to the end of the London Marathon and being given a chocolate medal.

I am, by no means, blaming the University (or YUSU) for their response to the pandemic. This past year, for the most part, has been largely out of their hands. In fact, I know that they are trying to put on the best alternative farewell events possible and, while these events can never be the same as a normal graduation, I get the feeling that YUSU are doing the best they can to provide for students in these circumstances. Unfortunately, it feels like the choice to move to these events was made too early, and the University has been too reluctant to alter their graduation plans as lockdown has eased. My problem is not with the University’s handling of the pandemic for final years but rather their stubborn refusal to change their minds.

While I completely understand the University’s position on current Covid guidelines, it still seems like a graduation was never really on the cards - even as lockdown eased. Since that dreaded email all final year students received in January declaring graduation was going to be online, pubs, shops and businesses have reopened, and now festivals and gigs are back on the table, yet the University has stuck with a decision made almost six months ago. While everyone returns to normality, albeit with safety measures in place, the University Of York has remained inflexible in its approach to graduations. This is made all the more frustrating by the fact that other Universities across the country have moved back to in person graduations, taking greater precautions but ensuring their students have a satisfying (and safe) farewell to their time at University.

Even York St. John.

If other Universities can do it, York can too and it is a constant source of frustration for graduating students that these options are not being more thoroughly explored, or even entertained, by the Uni.

Now, I’m not expecting the University to simply throw on a usual graduation event and cram thousands of students into Central Hall, but surely there are ways to make some sort of traditional graduation safe? Reduce the capacity of Central Hall and increase the number of days to allow for social distancing. Cut out the particularly Covid-unfriendly stage walk and handshake. I know these are both options the University must have at least considered and I’m sure there are ways that these events can be made safe.

Students are lacking any real sense of closure and the University needs to do better to accommodate this. The current farewell events are a step in the right direction, but cramming dozens of students under The Forest canopy and necking down glasses of prosecco doesn’t quite have the same impact as a traditional graduation.

Photoshoots with caps, gowns and degree certificates might be a bit cheesy, but right now it’s what students need after a particularly tough few years of University.

Anything would be better than simply watching a list of names slowly trundle up my laptop screen like the longest and most uneventful Star Wars opening crawl (I’m sure my parents can't wait to hang that screenshot on their wall).

After all, in a year where the world has been turned on its head, maybe what we need is graduation tradition to remind us that we are, finally, returning to normality.