When first stepping foot on campus, students long dream about one day walking down the aisle at the Yuengling Center on graduation day and waving to their families from the stage.
The university had to abruptly shift to remote instruction, and graduation was put on hold due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
However, Tuesday, more than 7,000 spring graduates were informed that their dreams could still be achieved, but in a nontraditional way.
For this year’s spring commencement, students will have the option to either attend a virtual commencement hosted from their designated campus beginning May 9 or walk down the Yuengling Center aisle during summer ceremonies between Aug. 6-9.
Traditionally, USF holds about eight ceremonies over the course of three days in Tampa, two in St. Pete and one in Sarasota-Manatee, according to university spokesperson Adam Freeman.
Freeman said students will receive their diplomas by mail approximately six to eight weeks after the ceremonies.
After USF President Steven Currall announced the decision in an email Tuesday afternoon, some students found it “disappointing.”
For Ashley Renee Williams, a senior majoring in psychology, the online commencement “just won’t feel the same.”
“I won’t feel that pride,” Williams said. “My parents won’t feel that pride and I don’t even know if I’m going to attend. I don’t know if it’s worth taking off work.
“I might try to push my move to New York City [for graduate school] to the middle of August so I can still walk because I skipped my high school commencement and my dad deserves to see me walk.”
The virtual commencement will include one ceremony for each campus, which will be recorded in advance and made available through the university’s website, according to Freeman.
The online commencement will be recorded from the Marshall Student Center Oval Theater and each graduate’s name will appear on the screen during the ceremony.
For Taylor-Paige Blum, a senior majoring in elementary education, she said she believes the online commencement might not be taken as seriously as the actual ceremony.
“While it is a nice gesture and I know they mean it in good spirits, I feel like it will be seen more as a joke than an honor,” Blum said.
Despite the situation not being ideal, senior Cassidy Hinson said she’s glad that she has the chance to walk during the summer commencement.
“I think that USF is doing what they can to accommodate seniors at this time,” Hinson said. “They could not control this virus and I am very confused by people saying the decision is unacceptable. What else would you like them to do? Everything is shut down, not just our graduation. I know this situation is not ideal but everyone is trying their best to get through it.”
However, senior Sarah Fier said having an online commencement is a “sad excuse for a replacement.”
“I am super disappointed,” Fier said. “It took me seven years to get to this point and a whole lot of personal issues, so having it taken away after triumphing through so much is heartbreaking.
“It isn’t fair to so many graduates to ask them to come back the first week of August to participate in a real commencement. I’m not a huge fan of the fact that they’re lumping spring in with summer in the first place. I feel like we should get our own ceremony.”
Some students said they believe it was the best alternative given the circumstances related to COVID-19.
Kailey Angela Wells, a senior majoring in studio art, is set to graduate in May. While she was “hurt and upset” at first, she said there are worse things happening besides graduation being postponed.
“I think, given the circumstances of what is going on that USF is doing what they can to accommodate for us,” Wells said.
“I understand that attending an August commencement for some may be rather difficult, but considering the virtual commencement, it’s not like we are being brushed over. I’m not sure if I will attend the virtual commencement in May, but I will be walking in August.”
While some students plan to participate during the summer commencements in August, others might face difficulties attending the ceremonies as they enter the workforce.
Senior Sarah Faruzzi said she is still undecided if she will participate in the commencements as she starts her new job in May.
“The situation sucks all around but I’m just glad USF is giving students the option to walk in August,” Faruzzi said. “Many other schools are canceling ceremonies entirely and not doing anything to give their students the option to walk.
“I’m not sure if I will be able to because I start my job in May but if I can walk I will try to. However, the virtual ceremony just seems silly and I will probably not watch it.”
Amid uncertainties and unexpected turnouts, Blum said this situation is something that “we can’t control.”
“I’m not disappointed with the decision and I don’t think there is any decision that will please all,” Blum said. “I think the university is trying their best with the given situation, just like we all are. This situation is nothing we or they could have prepared for.
“At first, I was upset that I would not be walking in May like I have been planning on for months and even years, my family and friends would not be flying in, there’s a lot of change we’ve all been going through and this is just one more thing that we can’t control and we have to accept that.”