As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, graduation ceremonies for the class of 2020 have been cancelled or postponed at schools and universities around the world. University College Dublin (UCD) is no exception, with several of the university’s conferring ceremonies already being postponed to a later date.
All UCD conferring ceremonies due to take place in June have been postponed. The students concerned have been awarded their degrees in absentia, with UCD’s Conferring Unit hoping to hold physical ceremonies at a later date. Those affected by this decision include graduates of medicine, nursing, and radiography. There is no indication yet on the Conferring Unit’s website that future ceremonies, scheduled from August 31st to December 3rd, will be cancelled or postponed. The Conferring Unit and Student Desk were contacted by the College Tribune for comments but did not respond by the time of publishing.
Graduation ceremonies have been cancelled at other Irish third-level institutions. The University of Limerick announced in an email on May 29th that its conferring ceremonies due to be held from August 24th to August 28th would be cancelled due to the ongoing pandemic, citing the Irish government’s restrictions on large gatherings. The university plans to hold digital conferral ceremonies for graduating students, who will receive an electronic parchment in place of a physical diploma. UL’s website indicates that students may also receive a physical copy in the post.
Similarly, Maynooth University has cancelled their autumn conferral ceremonies, replacing them with digital ceremonies. Thousands of graduating students have been affected by these decisions and have taken to the internet to voice their disappointment. Students from both institutes have started online petitions asking that the ceremonies be deferred to a later date, rather than cancelled or digitised, with the UL petition gaining almost 2,300 signatures and the Maynooth petition almost 4,500 respectively.
With the outcry in response to the decisions of UL and Maynooth to cancel graduation ceremonies, the preference among students in Ireland seems to be for a physical graduation ceremony. Students at UCD are no different. Alan McKenna completed his undergraduate degree in social science at UCD in May and is hopeful that he will be able to graduate in person alongside his peers. “I’d prefer that the ceremonies be postponed until such a time that they’re safe to hold on campus rather than organising ceremonies over Zoom or what have you,” he told The College Tribune. “If we’ve learned anything from the transition to online learning, it’s that not all students have access to the necessary resources such as a reliable laptop and internet connection. Conferring degrees on the usual date and postponing ceremonies would mean that anyone who wanted to attend can do so, but nobody is pressured into attending as degrees would have already been awarded. Personally, I more than likely would attend as I’m supposed to remain in UCD for my Masters next year so a ceremony on campus wouldn’t really inconvenience me in any way.”
Although many students have been disappointed by the decision to cancel graduation ceremonies, others are in favour of online ceremonies. Faye Butler is a UCD student who was due to graduate in May 2020. In the current climate, her preference is for an online graduation. She is sceptical about how conferring ceremonies will be conducted this year with the need for social distancing without a vaccine for Covid-19. “As far as I can tell, no matter how far away they postpone it, it won’t be the same as usual,” she told The College Tribune. “How do they expect to have the ceremony later when everyone is saying coronavirus will exist forever and life will never be the same?” She also worries that attending a physical graduation ceremony would put her family at risk, as she lives with her grandmother, who has been cocooning as recommended by the Irish government for those over 70.
Classes due to graduate in September such as Law and the ‘Law with’ classes have yet to be given any information on whether the graduation ceremony will proceed or not.
Isobel Dunne – Reporter