Class of 2024 looks to celebrate first traditional commencement

Countless students’ commencement ceremonies were altered due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

The Class of 2024 looks forward to looks forward to their first, traditional graduation since the pandemic. | FERNANDO GAXIOLA / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Four years ago, Gabriella Deluisi watched her high school graduation from her living room. Her commencement ceremony was moved to a prerecorded video due to the COVID-19 pandemic; her classmates weren’t able to pick up their diplomas until that summer when they had to clean out their lockers.

This year, Deluisi will participate in a full commencement ceremony for the first time in her life. 

“In the grand scheme of things, a lot of times people are like, ‘Oh, your college graduation is just a big ceremony like it’s actually not that big of a deal,’” said Deluisi, a senior risk management major. “But I feel like now we’re looking at it as like, this is our only one. So we’re kind of making it a bigger deal than usual.”

Deluisi is one of countless students whose commencement ceremonies were justifiably altered due to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Temple’s Class of 2024 is full of graduates looking to celebrate commencement traditionally for the first time, despite what their high school ceremony may have looked like. 

Temple was one of many institutions across the country to cancel its 2020 commencement ceremony out of concern for the pandemic, forcing students to celebrate in creative ways.

Unlike Deluisi, Kayla Stenta was able to walk the stage at her high school graduation, but she was only allowed to have her immediate family members in the audience. 

Victoria Szyper had a similar experience with limitations on the number of individuals allowed to attend the ceremony. At her high school, commencement was restricted to only five students at a time. Graduates got to walk the stage, but she still feels she missed out on the traditional experience. 

In May 2020, Philadelphia, among many other locations across the country, was still in the “red” phase of the state’s COVID-19 reopening plan; nonessential businesses remained closed and the county was under a stay-at-home order.

With it being four years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Szyper is looking forward to finally celebrating commencement to its fullest extent.

“If you think about it, this is going to be our first and probably our last graduation ever,” said Szyper, a senior economics major. “So yeah, I’m really excited about it.

Sophie Burdo’s high school graduation was also replaced with a prerecorded video ceremony. She was able to celebrate with her family outside of the ceremony but remembers the disappointment she felt missing out on the typical commencement experience. 

She plans to attend Klein’s ceremony on May 10 alongside Stenta and to honor the occasion with her family and friends.

“I was definitely really upset when I first found out that graduation was canceled, but I feel like in the moment, I guess we didn’t really know what we were missing,” said Burdo, a senior communications and social influence major. “But it definitely did take away some of the excitement, it didn’t seem as big of a deal.”

Some students recount having to act like they were graduating ahead of their actual commencement. Sarane Karunanidhi’s high school had students come in one at a time to film a commencement video. On graduation day, they released the three hour culmination of the clips. 

Karunanidhi remembers feeling disappointed at missing out on her graduation, but she appreciated not having to fully engage with the three-hour ceremony.

“It was mostly sad that we couldn’t sit through the whole thing and I was like filtering in and out of watching it,” said Karunanidhi, a senior finance major. “But, I mean, I guess the one good part is you can watch what you want to watch.”

At Marley Slotkin’s high school, graduation was divided into four separate ceremonies and graduates could only bring two guests, leaving her siblings to watch her commencement from the football field’s parking lot.

During late April and early June, counties across Pennsylvania moved into the “yellow” phase of reopening, in which gatherings of more than 25 individuals were prohibited. Larger gatherings, like commencement ceremonies, would be prohibited until late June, when counties entered the “green” phase.

This year, Slotkin’s whole family will be celebrating the graduation ceremony from inside The Liacouras Center. 

“I’m a first-generation college graduate, so it’s even more special to me to be able to invite everyone and have everyone celebrate me, and especially being that we didn’t get it during COVID,” said Slotkin, a senior human resource management major.

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