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Petition asks to let summer graduates walk at spring commencements

March 15, 2021
<p>An MSU student wearing their graduation cap and gown on April 22, 2020.</p>

An MSU student wearing their graduation cap and gown on April 22, 2020.

Photo by Alyte Katilius | The State News

Michigan State University summer 2021 graduates will not be walking in spring 2021 commencements, sparking a petition from those students affected and the community.

The petition to allow summer 2021 graduates to walk this spring has over 1,400 signatures as of March 15. 

MSU has scheduled multiple graduation ceremonies for each college across the weekend of April 30 at various sites on campus. MSU’s commencement website specifies the ceremonies are for Spring 2021 graduates only, and Summer 2021 graduates will be invited to participate in Fall 2021 commencement ceremonies. 

“I felt really blindsided,” education senior Ashlynn Seymour said. “My adviser told me every meeting every year, ‘Yeah, this is fine. This is fine. This is the plan. You'll be fine.’”

In a typical year, summer graduates, who are finishing up their last few classes in the summer, are able to walk in the spring commencements ceremony.

Everyone always checks with their advisers and makes sure like, ‘OK, if I take summer classes, I'll still be allowed to walk in the spring, correct?’ Yes, yes. They always said yes,” supply chain management senior Ryan Schiffman said. “So then, now, Michigan State announced that the graduations they're holding smaller ceremonies, … and then you're allowed two guests. But then summer grads have been cut from it.”

Schiffman is taking two classes this summer to finish his degree and is moving to law school this fall.

The university announced this decision in early March, which was past the deadline for any summer seniors to add the extra credits this semester in order to graduate in the spring instead. The students affected were not directly told of the decision and found out through the website.

When it comes to summer graduates, human development and family studies senior Ambyr McLean doesn't understand why they were the ones excluded from spring graduation ceremonies.  

“We still go to MSU; we should still matter,” McLean, who will be completing her internship credits this summer, said. “... If they would have did it at the beginning of the semester a bunch of people would have picked up credits, so then they could graduate in May. But instead, they did it two months later, where there's not an opportunity for us to pick up classes. There's no way that (I) can make up my internship.”

Additionally, this puts some students who are unable to take a larger class load due to disabilities at a disadvantage, the petition said.

“I think it's unfair to people who have disabilities who take classes over the summer because they can't take total full course loads or people who have financial situations where they have to work," Schiffman said. "So, maybe they have to take fewer credits."

The petition said that until the day the change was announced, the commencement page still read that summer graduates could participate in spring commencement ceremonies. 

“I think that even if they would have been transparent ... throughout the entire planning process, like these are things we're considering,” Seymour said. “If I knew they were considering excluding summer graduates, I would have just added the class and taken the semester, which I could have. I just chose to take it this summer to not overload myself. But if they were just more transparent about what they're thinking it would have, I wouldn't be in this position.”

The petition also recognized the safety aspect of larger ceremonies, suggesting the university instead host more smaller ceremonies for them to be included. The university is currently planning on hosting their ceremonies as state regulations allow at the time of the ceremonies. 

“They claim it's health and safety, and I take that very seriously," Schiffman said. "My grandpa passed away from COVID and that's a little more frustrating for me because I'm actually gonna be fully vaccinated next week, my second dose,” Schiffman said. “They claim ‘Oh, we're at full capacity. So, we had to cut some students.’ I'm like, 'OK, how did you calculate perfectly that getting rid of summer grads is what helps you reach capacity?'"

Another suggestion was to host ceremonies at Spartan Stadium. 

The state’s March 2 Gatherings and Face Mask Order says outdoor and recreation facilities may allow up to a thousand patrons. At indoor stadiums and arenas, no more than 375 patrons may be gathered at venues with a seating capacity under 10,000, and no more than 750 patrons may be gathered at venues with a seating capacity of over 10,000. However, a graduation ceremony would not be considered a sporting event.

Some students also suggested hosting a separate ceremony in the summer for summer graduates as a lot of them will be moving away for jobs or graduate school by the fall and unable to return for the fall ceremonies.

“It just feels like a slap in the face," Seymour said. "Honestly, we've already lost so much. As seniors, we've had a year and a half of online classes and a year and a half of no in-person events, like not being able to be in-person meetings. ... It just feels like another thing that MSU has taken from me.”

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While summer graduates are going to be walking in the fall, no date has been set for any in-person ceremonies for summer 2021 and fall 2021 graduates.

Spring graduation ceremonies for undergraduates are set to take place between April 30 and May 2 with each college determining the best course of action. 

“I mean, they just postpone things, and I don't even want to do it in the fall," Schiffman said. "So, I can't imagine how someone would want to do it who has been out for two years." 

“Michigan State was the only school I applied to," he said. "My dad went to Michigan State, and it's a big bonding point for us. I wanted to graduate from the same school that he did. So, I came from Maryland and yeah, this is where I wanted to be and so that he won't even see me walk virtually, it really stinks.”


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