Class of 2020 graduates move on after losing in-person commencement, say it’s too late now to celebrate

Zoe Tzanis and Ikram Mohamed

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the March 12 issue of The Daily Texan.


After four years of hard work, UT 2020 alumna Brianna Rodriguez said she saw graduation as “the mountain top.” Suddenly, that moment was gone. Commencement was canceled.


“I went through the anger, the sadness, the denial,” Rodriguez said. “When I landed on the acceptance, I wasn’t happy about it.”


In May 2020, following COVID-19 guidelines, UT replaced its in-person commencement with a virtual ceremony. The administration has proposed a make-up in-person ceremony Sept. 17, 2021. However, many recent graduates are unsure if they’ll attend.


As the first generation to graduate college in her family, Rodriguez said losing an in-person commencement was difficult.


“I feel that sense of duty that’s shared by many first-gen students to help younger family members,” she said. “I knew that I could share my accomplishment of graduating with them.”


Rodriguez said she always imagined herself receiving her diploma and seeing her grandmothers cheering in the audience.


“The thing that I will regret for the rest of my life is my grandmothers not being able to see me in my cap and gown, holding my diploma,” Rodriguez said.


She said both of her grandmothers died in the months following graduation, and she spent the fall mourning this loss.


While Rodriguez said she thinks the proposed in-person commencement is a nice gesture, she’s unsure if she’ll go.


“Envisioning myself in a moment that was supposed to be shared with the same people I lost, … that parallel and imagery is really overwhelming,” Rodriguez said.


As a first-generation immigrant from Argentina, 2020 graduate Nicolás Requena-Torre said he saw commencement as a celebration he would share with his family who planned to fly in from Argentina.


While the September ceremony could give him back that opportunity, Requena-Torre said it’s unlikely he’ll attend.


“My goal was to have my family members there,” Requena-Torre said. “Because that’s not going to be possible, because we are still in a pandemic, it doesn’t seem correct.”


UT alumna Alexis Tatum, a first-generation college graduate, said she mourns the loss of graduation season more than the ceremony itself.


“There’s a whole sentiment about that entire week (of graduation),” Tatum said. “Getting closure with friends who are moving all around the world, you’re finishing your very last projects for school. There’s a finality.”


Tatum said she doesn’t blame UT for how commencement turned out, though she does feel UT could’ve done more for her graduating class.


“The virtual ceremony … wasn’t a live ceremony at all,” Tatum said. “They were prerecorded. Our names rolled across the screen like movies credits. I feel like we got overlooked.”


Tatum now works as an internal communications analyst in Dallas-Fort Worth. She said navigating this past year has been difficult, but finding a silver lining has made it more manageable.


“Let yourself feel bad about it,” Tatum said. “But don’t let it overtake you. Find something to be grateful for, and try to focus on those things.”


Tatum said she doesn’t think she’ll be returning for the ceremony in September. She said she feels it’s too late.


“Everybody’s worked really hard to try to get over what we lost and move forward,” Tatum said.  “(Returning for the ceremony) feels like opening doors to remembering all the things that should have happened that didn’t.”