Recent graduates are ‘let down’ by virtual ceremonies

Trinady Joslin

After in-person graduation ceremonies were canceled in March, spring 2020 graduates said they hoped their virtual celebration would be memorable.

For Nicole Pownall, the prerecorded “celebration” only lasted 4 minutes and 50 seconds. 

Pownall said she viewed the College of Liberal Arts ceremony from her West Campus apartment with her mom and roommate. The length of the ceremony, she said, was disappointing.

“The word ceremony connotated to me and other people who I asked in the aftermath, like, ‘Oh, a live sort of event, something that is more intimate or lively,’” Pownall said.

Other students in the class of 2020 said their ceremonies were longer than COLA’s, but still did not meet their expectations.

“I was just expecting more, especially because the University was making it seem like UT ‘20 graduates were a priority,” Safiq Sindha, a graduate from the Cockrell School of Engineering, said. “It just kind of felt like a letdown.”

Considering the circumstances, Sindha said he thinks moving the in-person ceremony back was the right call.

“It's for the safety of the community,” Sindha said. “I'd rather have my graduation delayed than know that a single Longhorn is in the hospital because I wanted to graduate.” 

Cockrell’s ceremony, like many other colleges, was around 30 minutes and featured student, faculty and alumni speakers. Most ceremonies did not, however, read students' names aloud, something some graduates said they were looking forward to.

Sindha said he thought the University should have created a standard for all colleges to follow to eliminate disparities between ceremonies. The University gave each school access to a software called MarchingOrder, which allowed them to place student-submitted slides below the commencement video. 

The School of Information posted several videos, totaling 10 minutes for graduation, director of communications Keisha Brown said. She said in an email that their graduation coordinator “was advised by MarchingOrder that people prefer to click on their individual slide than wait to hear their name listed in a long readthrough of all graduates, so that’s the direction we went.”

In the School of Law, executive director of communications Christopher Roberts said they showed student slides on-screen and read their names aloud in their hour-long ceremony.

Some graduates said the Moody College of Communication graduation was more successful than others because they scrolled through a list of names on screen, in addition to posting student slides below. 

Aside from being given access to MarchingOrder, University spokesperson Ellie Breed said in a written statement that she is unaware of any additional guidance for graduation ceremonies given to individual colleges. 

David Ochsner, a representative from COLA, said no online ceremony could have been as good as an in-person one, but that he understands students' criticisms. 

“We could have done a lot more,” Ochsner said. “I was thinking we should have had some students speak. Our college is filled with really, really talented students, and I think it would have really meant a lot more if it would have been a longer ceremony than what we presented.”

Ochsner said COLA was more focused on planning for the eventual in-person ceremony that is set to take place in 2021.

“Being fully aware of what happened with the virtual graduation, we want to make this one super special,” Ochsner said. “For those who can't attend, we'll do something online as well, that is a lot longer, a lot more meaningful, a lot more celebratory.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled David Ochsner's name.