On March 30, the University of Maine System announced that the University of Maine System Administration or Faculty was not planning an in-person commencement due to the health warnings and state regulations imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 has caused schools around the country to close their doors to students and staff and has resulted in many graduating students losing the opportunity to celebrate at an in-person commencement ceremony.
As graduating students found out that they would not have the opportunity to celebrate their graduation among friends, family and peers, the response from the UMaine community was immediate. While many students understood that the current health concerns would prevent UMaine from planning an in-person commencement in the near future, they had hoped that the administration would seek out an alternative time to hold the commencement.
“[This was] one of the most significant bummers of my lifetime,” Hailey Bryant, a graduating communications student, noted in a Facebook post.
The outcry from students led Meagan McKeon, a graduating Civil Engineering student, to create a petition from students addressed to the UMaine administration, urging UMaine to plan an in-person commencement for a time when it is safe to do so. McKeon’s petition addressed a number of student concerns about commencement.
“Though we understand we are living in an unprecedented era, we believe that postponing the in-person commencement would allow students to better celebrate the huge accomplishment that is graduation,” McKeon wrote in the petition. “Many colleges in the area are simply postponing, or doing both a virtual commencement in May, and allowing students to walk at a later date, when the pandemic is adequately handled, so as to not pose a safety risk. Though we had a fake ‘coronamencement,’ we do not feel as if that was a genuine replacement for commencement, as many seniors were unable to attend due to classes and other commitments. Finally, we would like to be able to celebrate with the friends, family, and the UMaine staff that have supported us in our time here, and a virtual celebration will keep us from doing that.”
The petition gained a lot of attention from UMaine students, and in less than a day more than 2,500 members of the UMaine community signed it.
Vice President of Student Life and Inclusive Excellence and Dean of Students Robert Dana noted that the support from the UMaine community has been a wonderful thing to see.
“We are living in a time unparalleled in our lifetimes, but this is a time for us to reflect on who we are, who we have become, how our life experiences have shaped us, and recognize that we as a community have the strength and purpose to put our energy to the greater good,” Dana said. “We can do for others, we can consider others, and we can make the World a less frightening and lonely place. It isn’t easy because as humans our feelings are real and all UMainers are living in the midst of this crisis, but what distinguishes us is our love for each other, our belief that we can make a difference by leaning in, and our knowledge that doing for others is our highest calling.”
On April 2, the University of Maine System posted an updated announcement that stated that they would be planning to hold commencement for students who had anticipated graduating in the spring of 2020. While the University of Maine System administration was unable to say when the commencement would be planned for, due to the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, the administration notes that they hope to be able to offer an in-person commencement experience as soon as possible.