On March 13, the University of Maine community organized and held an honorary commencement ceremony for graduating students. Due to the decision made by the University of Maine System to indefinitely move instruction online, the future of the 2020 commencement, scheduled for May 9, is uncertain.
The ceremony, which was dubbed “Coronamencement” due to the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), was held in the Memorial Union. The event was organized by graduating communications sciences student Sophia Palangas, with assistance from graduating students Taylor Cray and Logan Aromando. The ceremony featured speeches from Palangas, Cray and Aromando, as well as an emotional speech from Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students Robert Dana.
As students gathered in the atrium of the Union, local band Midnight Breakfast gave a live music performance. The band stated in an Instagram post, “This is a sad time for all of us … We will be playing some songs to lift the spirits of our peers during this difficult time.”
Palangas followed Midnight Breakfast, introducing the event’s speakers and opened the ceremony by saying that while this was not the commencement that she or any of her peers had imagined, she was grateful for the support of the community which allowed this event to take place.
“I’m so proud to stand among you all, and I’m so thankful for today,” Palangas said. “I cannot express how much this means to me.”
Dana spoke after Palangas, commending the UMaine community on how it has come together and recognized the successes that would come despite the current challenges and anxieties for students’ futures.
“For us to send you off so suddenly is painful for us,” Dana said. “As I was walking around campus today, I could sense the awe of all the people. There is a sense of [asking] what’s next. What’s going to be next is that we’re going to be safe. You’re going to be the leaders of this next generation, and you’re going to make change everywhere.”
His speech was followed by a performance from UMaine Renaissance, UMaine’s all-women acapella group. In a moment that brought many to tears, the group performed Queen’s “Somebody To Love.”
After, students walked across a makeshift stage to receive an honorary diploma. Palangas announced students’ names while they elbow-bumped, as opposed to shaking hands, with Bananas the Bear and Dana.
The ceremony demonstrated immense community support. In an effort to make the best of the situation, many students chose to wear graduation caps made from cardboard or other supplies. The “Coronamencement” ceremony served, for many, as a chance for closure on the time they spent at UMaine as they prepare for their unexpected departures and ambiguous next steps.