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Digital diplomas: OSU moves fall 2020 graduation online citing COVID-19 concerns

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OSU graduation will be virtual for the fall 2020 semester because of COVID-19

Oklahoma State seniors will end the college chapter of their lives not in Gallagher-Iba Arena surrounded by close friends and family, but alone in their bedrooms.

This is not how the 2020 graduating class expected to celebrate its once in a lifetime accomplishment. Then again, so little of college turned out as expected.

It must feel like a lifetime ago when these graduates first stepped foot on OSU campus. The first time they shuffled through the crowds of the student union or the first time school was canceled because of snow and they got a chance to gaze upon a frozen Theta Pond, reminding themselves to enjoy the little things along the way of their college journey.

Those freshman didn’t yet know how each setback would force them to grow or how warm each achievement would feel. 

They surely didn’t know that their college experience would end with an email. That they would have to pack everything up and return home to finish senior year in front of a webcam. That amidst a worldwide pandemic, they wouldn’t get the chance to walk the stage, receive their degree and throw their caps in the air as one final goodbye to the OSU community.

When OSU President Burns Hargis announced that the 2020 spring, summer and fall commencement ceremonies would be held virtually, Alexia Benson, a first generation college student, was profoundly disappointed.

“While I’m aware that these times look a lot different for many, OSU continues to pride themselves in sports rather than academics,” Benson said. “I have worked so hard for three and a half years to graduate early. My parents have worked hard, mentally and physically, to give me this opportunity and they won’t even be able to witness me finish what I started.” 

The idea of sports taking precedence over academic achievements isn’t solely Benson’s. Many upcoming graduates, including Isaac Walden have echoed this sentiment.

“It’s a double standard to keep football and continue to have classes held in-person if we can’t have graduation,” Walden said. 

In his statement, President Hargis said holding an in-person ceremony with social distancing and other safety protocols is “not feasible.”

Our commencements draw large crowds inside Gallagher-Iba Arena and to move outside that time of year is not practical,” Hargis said.

Robyn Hearn didn’t care what her graduation looked like, whether it required masks or was divided into several days to accommodate for social distancing. All she cared about was being able to walk the stage.

“I started a job in New York, 1,500 miles away from my hometown. I was looking forward to getting to see my OSU friends one last time,” Hearn said. “I even put in for my vacation days as soon as I could. Nothing was going to stop me from getting to my graduation.”

Oklahoma State has been the home of generations of students. For the past four years, it has been theirs. In a world of uncertainty, many of them won’t know what’s in store for them when they log off of their commencement, tassel on the left and degree in the mailbox. But they did something very few people ever will and the OSU community is proud of them for it.