Not Your Typical Commencement Ceremony

BROCKPORT, N.Y. – At the end of their four years, many college students dream of the symbolic commencement ceremony where they hear their name’s read, walk across the stage and accept their degree. For most 2021 graduates, the commencement they dreamed of will not become a reality. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted colleges with the difficult decision of how to safely celebrate this year’s graduates. Effective May 1, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that outdoor commencement ceremonies will be permitted, but with limited capacity dependent on location.   

SUNY Geneseo, SUNY Brockport, and SUNY Buffalo have all chosen to hold in person commencement ceremonies, however, they have all chosen different formats. 

SUNY Geneseo is holding in-person ceremony at 4:45 p.m. on May 12, 2021. Students will receive their diplomas and walk the stage while their family and friends watch the ceremony on SUNY Geneseo’s live stream. 

Photo was taken from SUNY Geneseo website. Pictured above is Keith Walters, 2011 graduate.

Geneseo students have mixed emotions about this year’s commencement ceremony format. Senior Joely Ascenzo, 21, was disappointed that her family would not be able to see her walk the stage in-person. 

“I am a first-generation college student, and my parents have been talking about my college graduation day since I was practically 5. It wasn’t going to be that big of a deal to me, but I know seeing me walk across the stage was a big deal to my family. I am just thankful to have some kind of in-person graduation, because last year seniors didn’t even get that,” said Ascenzo.

Ascenzo said that several of her friends were also disappointed about commencement, and that many of them have chosen not to participate in the ceremony. 

“I’m one of the only ones out of my friends who’s going to be walking the stage on May 12. I don’t even know if I should call it a graduation, that’s how different it feels. It is definitely not the graduation I imagined, but I am going to get that degree and that’s all that matters,” said Ascenzo. 

SUNY Brockport is hosting a similarly formatted commencement ceremony. Brockport has decided to offer three separate ceremonies on the days of Monday, May 17 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.; Tuesday, May 18 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Wednesday, May 19 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.

At these ceremonies, students will walk the stage, get their pictures taken, and receive their diploma cover. Due to various New York State COVID-19 restrictions, the Grad Walk ceremonies are not allowing any guests.

Photo taken from the SUNY Brockport website. Pictured above is a SUNY Brockport graduate at their commencement ceremony.

The traditional Commencement ceremony will take place online via YouTube Live event on Saturday, May 22. This ceremony will include several speeches from President Heidi Macpherson, and additionally a customized slide for each graduate. 

Although some parents were happy to hear that there would be an in-person ceremony, several were disappointed that they would not be able watch in-person.

Heather McMullen was hopeful that she would be able to see her youngest daughter graduate in-person. McMullen’s daughter is a member of the Brockport women’s soccer team and is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in communications and criminal justice. 

“The school had been sending the kids emails for months saying they are going to try to do everything they can to accomplish a normal graduation, which I am sure they did. I know it is a difficult scenario, but this is all very frustrating,” said McMullen. 

SUNY Brockport is giving family and friends the opportunity to be a “fan in the stands,” and show their support through a cardboard cutout guest placed in the audience. Brockport is hoping to make the Grad Walks as special as possible by having a familiar face in the stands. 

SUNY Buffalo, on the other hand, is holding an in-person commencement ceremony with guests. Although it will look vastly different from a traditional commencement ceremony, SUNY Buffalo is attempting to give students and their families as normal of a ceremony as possible. 

SUNY Buffalo is holding 17 in-person commencement ceremonies between April 30 and May 16. Commencement events will occur in either UB Stadium, or the Furnas parking lot. For ceremonies taking place at UB Stadium, each graduate will be given two to four tickets (determined by the size of the ceremony). 

Guests attending commencement will be required to complete a daily health check the day of the event, proof of a negative viral test result taken within 72 hours, and either proof of full vaccination or full recovery from COVID-19 within the last 90 days. 

As one of the handful of SUNY schools holding in-person ceremonies with guests, SUNY Buffalo student, Ashley Plantone, 22, was elated to hear the news. 

Photo taken from SUNY Buffalo website. Pictured above are four graduates of the SUNY Buffalo class of 2018. 

“I am so grateful that my parents are able to come to my graduation this year. So many other schools weren’t able to allow guests, and that is kind of the whole point of having a graduation ceremony, right? To have your parents, family, and friends cheer you on when they announce your name. It is a moment that so many of us dream about, and unfortunately not everyone will be able to live out that dream,” said Plantone.

SUNY Geneseo, SUNY Brockport, and SUNY Buffalo have been working on holding an in-person commencement ceremony for months. Now that commencement plans are finalized, local SUNY schools are looking forward to celebrating the accomplishments of this year’s graduating class. 

If you would like to celebrate this year’s class of 2021 graduates, SUNY Geneseo, SUNY Brockport and SUNY Buffalo will be livestreaming each commencement ceremony on their scheduled day. To access the livestream, please visit the SUNY Geneseo, SUNY Brockport, or SUNY Buffalo academic website. 



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