The COVID-19 Class: Unconventional Commencement Plans for Classes of 2020 & 2021

Author: Katherine Holtz

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Although efforts to roll out COVID-19 vaccines provide some hope for the future, Notre Dame still has to contend with a messy web of safety complications if it hopes to hold commencement celebrations for the classes of 2020 and 2021.

In an email to students and faculty on Feb. 3, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. announced that while the commencement for the Class of 2021 will still take place in person May 21-23 — with appropriate health and safety protocols in place — the commencement for the Class of 2020, scheduled for  Memorial Day weekend 2021, would be deferred once again.

With Notre Dame’s commitment to tradition challenged by these unprecedented times, students from both the classes of 2020 and 2021 are worried about how the celebrations will proceed.

Olivia Mercucio, who graduated in 2020, is optimistic that she and her classmates will one day experience a special ceremony to commemorate their time at Notre Dame. “With the pride my school has in its tradition, there’s no way they’ll let us disappear without a final celebration of our time there,” she said.

The undergraduate class of 2020 has not been the only one affected. Graduate student Ricardo Romero Moreno spent over six years working on his degree in Notre Dame’s integrated biomedical sciences doctoral program and was also supposed to graduate in 2020.

“When I finally walk I would like my family to come visit, but I would not want to have my elderly parents be exposed to a superspreader,” he said. With current vaccine rollout efforts, Romero Moreno is hopeful he might get his opportunity in 2022. “I’d rather postpone it so I’d actually go when it’s safe,” he added.

The Class of 2021’s situation is also unconventional. Though  Jenkins said the commencement will occur in person, some students worry that the rising number of cases on campus may hinder the initial plan.

“Notre Dame is very committed to making sure we don’t go home,” said senior Izzy Edgar. She remains hopeful for the in-person commencement to happen as planned with necessary restrictions. “Me just getting to have a ceremony is super important. If that means my family doesn’t get to come, I’m fine with that.”    

But other students want to preserve as much of the normal experience as possible. “If we were able to have people in the stadium for a football game, I don’t see why we can’t have that for graduation but all spread out,” said senior Casey Samagalsky.

Remaining positive for a spring commencement, Samagalsky added that she wants her parents to experience her walk in person, when the novelty of completing four years of college is at its peak.

“I’m graduating for [my parents] and my mom because she wasn’t able to. This is their degree, and they are the reason I’m here.”

(Photo from Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame)