COVID-19 pushes tassel turns virtual for class of 2020

Jackie Park, Reporter

Black and gold tassels, mortarboards, gowns, stoles and cords will be seen through pixels on a screen this spring as App State’s class of 2020’s graduation is moved online.

In an email on March 20 titled “Virtual Commencement, virtual instruction and a new normal,” Chancellor Sheri Everts announced that after UNC System Interim President Bill Roper made a comment about disrupted graduations, App State’s response will consist of a virtual ceremony and the option for students to walk in the December ceremony.

“There are many details to work out, but please know my leadership team and I are committed to preserving, to the greatest extent possible, the essence of the celebrations and milestones of the final weeks of the Spring semester, including Commencement. We don’t know exactly what that will look like, but we are working hard on virtual solutions,” she wrote.

Almost immediately, many seniors took to social media to express their bittersweet frustrations about the ceremony.

“Angry” reacts and comments about hopes for a postponed ceremony and a petition called, “Postpone Appalachian State University commencement instead of virtual commencement,” which now has over 3,800 signatures, flooded a few of the posts. 

Sirisha Karra, a senior management major, was supposed to speak at graduation. She said she’s “heartbroken.”

“I have had an incredible journey at App State, and was looking forward to singing my senior song in my a cappella group and spending my last few months with the people I cherish … I miss Boone a lot and honestly want it to go back to how it was,” she said.

Chief Communications Officer Megan Hayes wrote in an email that no plans have been formalized for speakers or structure, but that students will be involved in the planning process.

Other students, like senior public relations major Katie Wynn, had big plans for graduation weekend. Wynn’s family had booked a 10-person cabin to see her walk and celebrate the other two graduates in her family this year.

“I think since I had looked forward to walking since I started at App four years ago, it seemed kind of untouchable. It was the last thing that hadn’t been touched by the pandemic yet, since so many other aspects of my senior year had already been canceled. I have worked very hard in college and immediately felt that a virtual graduation is just not a significant enough form of recognition,” Wynn said.

Yesenia Garcia-Navarro is a first-generation college student, and said she wanted to walk across the stage to show how much her parents’ continual support means to her.

“It’s way more than just graduating, it’s making my parents proud, showing that even with a family that struggled to get over to America and eventually build a life here, their daughter is still capable to accomplish what others more fortunate can,” Garcia-Navarro, an English secondary education major, said.

Hayes wrote that a virtual ceremony is “not nearly as good” as coming together in the Holmes Convocation Center in May, but the commencement planning team will “do everything possible” to honor the hard work students have put in throughout their tenure at App State.