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Photo: UMKC fall 2020 graduates will have a virtual commencement ceremony, similar to the one hosted earlier this year in May. (UMKC)

As the fall semester comes to a close, students who will be graduating in December are coming to terms with UMKC’s decision to hold a virtual commencement as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The move is not unlike that of many other universities across the country who have shifted graduations and ceremonies to a virtual format during the pandemic. 

Melissa Ottmen, a senior at UMKC, said her nursing background completely changed the way she feels about having an online commencement. 

“As someone who’s a healthcare worker, I understand that this is our new normal now,” Ottmen said. “I’m glad that UMKC decided to hold graduation virtually because that is the safest option.”

Ottmen said working on the front lines during the beginning of the pandemic put a lot of things into perspective for her. 

“I was on the front lines when COVID first started getting serious,” she said. “I never really had a problem with things getting cancelled because I’ve seen how serious this is and don’t think we should be adding to it by holding large events.”

Another senior at UMKC, Sienna Johnson, said she understood the precautions but couldn’t help feeling disappointed at the prospect of not walking across the stage.

“You spend all this time, money and hard work, and this is what all students look forward to,” Johnson said. “It’s like the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Last April, the university notified students graduating in the spring semester that, due to the rising number of coronavirus cases, their commencement would be held virtually. The university also assured graduating students that there would be a larger, in-person celebration later in the year. 

“We know what a treasured tradition and milestone commencement is for our graduates who have worked long and hard for their diplomas,” UMKC Chancellor C. Mauli Agrawal wrote in a statement. “In December 2020, we also will plan to host our biggest in-person commencement celebration ever, inviting May and December grads to march across the stage and receive their diplomas.”

The university changed its mind stating in October that the Dec. 19 graduation ceremony would also be virtual. However, UMKC stated that it hopes to still hold an in-person ceremony for May and December graduates at an undetermined time in the future. Agrawal noted in a letter to campus that the university is unable to set a realistic date for the event, as it is unsure when holding large events will be safe again..

“Earning a degree from an accredited research university such as ours is a true achievement, one worthy of celebration,” Agrawal told UMKC Today. “In these times, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, our celebrations must be planned with care. The health and safety of our graduates and their loved ones must remain our highest priority.”

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