While most Delaware colleges have postponed graduation ceremonies to the fall, Delaware Technical Community College will hold virtual commencement events in May, despite many students’ wishes.
In an April 3 statement to students, Del Tech President Mark Brainard said virtual ceremonies would be held on dates and times originally set for each campus.
Student Kasie Bell, who attends Del Tech’s Dover campus, said she emailed Brainard to request the school postpone the event and hold a traditional ceremony in the fall.
“His response was, ‘It’s in the best interest of the students to have a virtual graduation ceremony,” Bell said. “That’s funny to me. I don’t know how they know it’s in our best interests because they never asked us. They never got our input. It’s not in my best interest not to walk.”
Bell, 37, said she is the first member of her family to attend college; she will earn a dual degree in human services and drug and alcohol counseling. Bell said she understands why a traditional ceremony can’t be held in May.
“It’s not safe right now,” she said. “However, that does not mean the date cannot be postponed to the fall like other colleges.”
University of Delaware postponed its graduation; administrators sought student input via survey to plan a future ceremony. Wilmington University and Goldey Beacom postponed events to fall 2020. Delaware State University and Wesley College announced plans for a virtual celebration with physical events set for fall.
More than 100 comments opposing virtual ceremonies appeared on Del Tech’s Facebook post announcing the events. Two petitions have been created on Change.org, with more than 1,300 signatures calling for a postponed, live graduation ceremony. Bell said she plans to present petitions to college leaders.
“I’m hoping and praying they’ll change their minds,” she said. “I feel like I went to school for a certificate. They couldn’t think of a better way to send us off? The decision to hold a virtual ceremony is a disappointment and robs all students of the opportunity of walking on the stage in front of family, friends and instructors.”
Del Tech spokesperson Christine Gillan reiterated the decision was made in the best interest of students.
“As we see cases rising in Delaware, we thought it would be good for everyone to celebrate in the only way we can at this difficult time,” Gillan said. “At this point, we don’t even know if we’ll be able to have classes on our campuses in the fall.”
Gillan said school officials want to celebrate 2020 graduates in the future.
“We don’t know what that will entail or when we will be able to do that, but we will continue to look for ways we can celebrate their success when it’s safe,” she said.
Gillan said plans for virtual events are underway. A stage and backdrop have been set up in a conference room, technicians are working on lighting and sound capabilities, and video production will begin the week of April 20.
Virtual events will include videotaped speeches, including a commencement address by Delaware U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, a message from Brainard, national anthem and invocation, all in full regalia, Gillan said.
Slides resembling diplomas will display each student's name while names are read by the dean of instruction at each campus. Degrees will be conferred via a videotaped message from the chairman of the board, followed by processional music. Mortar boards were sent to all students for free, Gillan said.
“We are trying to make it look and feel as much like a graduation as possible,” Gillan said.