By Cooper Baskins, OMN Photographer
As the school year draws to a formal close, Oregon State University’s Commencement weekend will be a different experience than prior years for graduates, their families and faculty.
Commencement weekend begins on Friday, June 11 at 12:30 p.m. with a celebratory in-person processional for the classes of 2020 and 2021.
OSU graduates who attend either the Corvallis, Ore. or Ecampus campuses will gather in areas designated for their specific college in the Memorial Union and Valley Library quads on the Corvallis campus. Graduates will then depart for Reser Stadium.
Once graduates arrive at Reser Stadium, and throughout the entire processional, graduates will be required to wear masks and follow all OSU COVID-19 safety guidelines. The university strongly encourages graduates to wear comfortable shoes and to bring their graduation caps and tassels.
Remarks will be heard from OSU’s Interim President Becky Johnson, Provost and Executive Vice President Edward Feser and the deans of the colleges within OSU. This event is expected to end at 3 p.m.
Starting at 10:30 a.m. the next day, June 12, will be the virtual Commencement ceremony for graduates attending OSU either in Corvallis or through Ecampus. OSU-Cascades will host their Commencement ceremony and events on Sunday, June 13, beginning at 9 a.m. in Bend, Ore.
Attendance for the in-person processional is limited to just graduates and university faculty due to the COVID-19 pandemic and gathering restrictions. At the processional, graduates should not expect to hear their names called or to receive their diplomas.
Andrea McDaniel, the director of Commencement at OSU, said in an email “This year, and last year, for the first time in many years, diplomas will only be mailed out to eligible graduates after their degree audit confirms that they have completed all of their degree requirements,” breaking a longstanding tradition at OSU.
“OSU is known for meaningful Commencement ceremonies that are rich in traditions,” McDaniel said. “We are one of a handful of large universities nationally that still provide students [with] their actual diplomas on the day of Commencement. We know how to do great in-person Commencements and provide our graduates and their family and friends with a meaningful and memorable experience.”
Usually beginning the process for planning a Commencement in October, McDaniel and her team’s Commencement plans were thrown into the wind when COVID-19 restrictions made it more difficult for large groups to gather.
“Graduates were surveyed regarding what they wanted for the 2020 Commencement as a result of the pandemic,” McDaniel said. “Graduates responded by saying they favored postponing Commencement from June  to the fall of 2020. In response, we wanted to celebrate our graduates with a gift box and a virtual celebration.”
The university began planning a fall Commencement for the class of 2020 during the summer last year. But as COVID-19 case numbers kept rising throughout 2020, McDaniel said the chances of hosting an in-person event kept going down.
“We began discussing the possibility of an in-person activity of some form as early as January, but it remained very uncertain what local and state health authorities would allow for any in-person events,” McDaniel said. “With an interest in contributing to safety and wellness for all involved, we chose to not proceed with any plans for an in-person activity.”
Seniors at Oregon State have been vocal in their desires for an in-person event of some sort to commemorate the class of 2021. Emily McKillip, a senior in the College of Business, lodged a petition in the hopes that OSU would follow her sister school’s example.
“I’ve heard that the University of Oregon is doing in-person activities… I was like ‘Oh, okay. Oregon State usually follows what University of Oregon is doing, they’ll probably announce something within a week.’ And then the weeks went on and there wasn’t a single word ever said,” McKillip said. “I took a screenshot of UO’s website with their plans and put it on my Instagram story just to see if other people would react. Some people messaged me, one of them was like ‘Are you going to start a petition?’”
On May 17, McKillip posted her petition to Change.org and it caught the attention of many members of the OSU community. In the petition, McKillip raised the question: if UO can have in-person events on graduation day, why can’t OSU?
The petition currently has over 3,500 signatures.
“One of my friends said, ‘You just got to move on,’” McKillip said. “I can’t do that!”
Regarding OSU’s announcement on May 24 that there will be an in-person processional, McKillip said, “I’m happy about it, it’s not an actual graduation, but it’s something where we all get to celebrate together. I think the reaction about it from everyone has been pretty happy about it.”
“I thought it was great that [the university] was giving the students the opportunity,” said Shelley Jordon, a professor of art at OSU. “I did ask my students what they thought of it and if they were going to do it. One student, who’s now living in Portland with their parents, said she was going to talk to their friends and see if they want to do it.”
Jordon’s daughter graduated from Whitman College last spring. In unison with the majority of other colleges in the nation, they held their Commencement ceremony virtually.
“I think everything is so chaotic right now… there’s so many moving parts and it’s a huge school, things have really just loosened up [recently],” Jordon said. “It’s like this huge train that’s moving—how far in advance do you have to pull the brakes? I think the train is too big to change in that amount of time. I’m glad that there’s an option, it’s just been a bad year and a half.”