Walking across the stage for graduation symbolizes the end of an era, as it’s a significant accomplishment that signals the start of a new chapter of life for graduates, wherever that may take them. However, the opportunity to walk during commencement comes with uncertainty for those who complete their education in the fall or summer.
The University of Mary Washington’s only commencement is at the end of the spring semester in May, which means that students who completed their studies earlier in the year have to wait another full semester or more until they’re able to commemorate the end of their college career. This is the case for anyone graduating in under or over four years, which has been frequent due to the COVID-19 pandemic. By not having a fall commencement as they do at the end of the spring semester, students often miss the opportunity to walk at all, since their post-graduation plans often draw them away. Not only is commencement a tradition that culminates the time a student has spent at the institution, but it also provides a time for students to celebrate their accomplishments and hard work before they enter the workforce with a degree in hand.
For this reason, UMW should offer a commencement ceremony in the fall in addition to the springtime event in order to provide graduating students the ability to close out their education on a ceremonious note. College is a time for students to further develop their interests, which can sometimes prolong their time at the university.
In an article by the Collegiate Parent, some of the main reasons behind students extending their college experience include taking lighter class loads, changing majors, having a high number of extracurriculars and adding on majors or minors. Some students are also able to finish their degrees in fewer than eight semesters, which means that they also have to wait for spring commencement to walk, even if they technically graduated earlier.
Senior marketing major Kayla Zegada, who came in as a biology major, is facing this problem now. After completing her overall credit requirement, changing her major halfway through junior year from an accounting major meant that she would be required to spend one extra semester at UMW in order to fulfill all of her major requirements. Zegada has not only been responsible for her studies, but she has also taken part in over 14 extracurricular activities and internships over the past four and a half years at the university—all the while being a full time student.
“It would be nice to have a more formal recognition at the end of fall for students like myself who happen to not have a spring semester,” said Zegada. “It’s super anticlimactic and feels just fake to graduate in the fall, just to come back and walk in the spring.”
As a first generation graduate, Zegada must wait until May to celebrate her accomplishment, feeling as if the excitement of finishing her studies is disillusioning.
“It’s a bit disappointing because I’m the first member of my family to graduate from college, and I don’t get a ceremony or anything,” said Zegada. “I wish UMW did more to recognize every student’s accomplishments rather than just the traditional, spring graduates.”
However, not holding a fall commencement also affects those who graduate early.
Recent communication and digital studies graduate, Maggie Mae Young, completed her studies over the summer after her third year of college, and she has to wait to walk almost a year later in May. She completed her remaining credits over the summer after falling short credit-wise last spring.
“There is a great number of students that have worked hard—whether they are graduating early or late—and they deserve to experience a celebration of that without having to wait an entire year,” said Young. “I am still a fresh graduate, and the excitement is still being felt. I am not sold on the idea of coming back in the spring, as I will be busy out in the real world, working and creating a new life. It seems silly to come back after an entire year to walk with people I barely know.”
For international students, staying for graduation is even more complicated. The possibility of international students coming back to the United States for spring commencement is not only extremely challenging, but it is also difficult for those who need to ascertain a visa in order to return to the U.S.
According to the University of Mary Washington’s website, there are currently students from over 20 foreign countries attending the university, and those who return to their home countries after they graduate in the summer or fall have to return in the spring if they wish to walk. On top of possible visa restrictions, the price of a plane ticket and hotels may limit them from being able to come back in the spring. Therefore, a fall commencement ceremony would also provide international students with an opportunity to celebrate their accomplishment.
“Being an international student, it could affect me massively as I would not be able to make it back in the Spring,” said international master’s student Bradlee Nicholls, who is from South Africa. “Luckily for me, I’ll be working in the USA and will try to make it back in the spring to walk, but there is no guarantee, which is unfortunate since this will be my MBA graduation.”
Nicholls originally came from South Africa to Fredericksburg to play for the school’s Division I men’s rugby team. However, the excitement of graduating with a master’s in business administration has been dimmed by the uncertainty of where he will be during commencement in May. Focused on finding a job in the United States to complete his optional practical training, Nicholls must find a sufficient position within the business analytic or financial risk management sector to be permitted to reside in the country, which is the case for many international students who wish to stay because of visa purposes.
“Mary Washington needs to start offering fall commencement,” said Nicholls. “It doesn’t have to be nearly as big as the standard one in May, but there should be one to cater to those who worked hard to finish early. People who can’t make it back for the May graduation are basically left without a graduation, which is an important milestone for people and should be allowed to celebrate the exact same way.”
By not offering a fall commencement for recent graduates, UMW makes it harder for those who don’t finish at the end of a spring semester to celebrate this milestone. Between staying for prolonged semesters to graduating early, students have worked hard during their college years, and they deserve to be able to celebrate their accomplishments when it happens, not months afterwards.