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A graduate wears a mask during the ceremony. UGA spring 2020 graduates and families gathered for a delayed, socially distanced commencement ceremony on Oct. 16, 2020, in Athens, Georgia. (Photo/ Kathryn Skeean, kskeean@randb.com)

The University of Georgia announced on Oct. 22 its fall 2020 commencement ceremony would take place virtually.

Originally scheduled for Dec. 18 in Stegeman Coliseum, the ceremony was moved online due to COVID-19 concerns in the winter months.

This marks the second time this year a UGA commencement ceremony has been changed due to COVID-19. The May 8 spring 2020 commencement ceremony was postponed but ended up taking place in Sanford Stadium on Oct. 16.

“The safety of our students and their families in this challenging time was at the forefront of this decision,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead in the announcement. 

Graduates were asked via a UGA email to submit a photo of themselves and their favorite memory at UGA to be featured in the ceremony as well as their updated address. 

The decision has not gone without prompting varying sentiments among the graduating class.

Savannah Fordham, an advertising major, said she remained optimistic over the summer and imagined the coronavirus would become less severe, but she soon accepted an in-person commencement ceremony would not be feasible.

“I understand the decision and I understand the COVID implications, but I know my frustration, like a lot of other students, comes from the fact that they did just have that in-person commencement for the May grads. They really tried to make that happen for them,” Fordham said.

Fordham said she felt underappreciated after the in-person Oct. 16 commencement ceremony, which took place only six days before her commencement was made virtual. 

The Vanderbilt vs. Georgia football game will also be played in Sanford Stadium with 25% fan capacity less than two weeks before her scheduled commencement. 

Fordham and her family will watch the virtual commencement to celebrate the special occasion, but she wishes graduates were given more details. Currently, Fordham has received no further information than what she read on the commencement website.

Much like Fordham, advertising major Kate Laver did not foresee COVID-19 affecting her graduation in the beginning. She said her fellow graduates shouldn’t mourn the loss of an in-person ceremony because preventing the spread of COVID-19 is more important.

She wishes UGA would have been more transparent because she felt as though students were the last to know about COVID-19 updates and details about the ceremony.

“At least I will get to be in my parents’ home and walk across my living room in front of my fireplace and pretend that I am graduating,” Laver said. “At least I get to see the faces of the people I love as I graduate. There’s little moments that you can hold onto even if, on the whole, it’s not what you expected.”

Michael Zimmerman, a management information systems major, said he was excited when his classes became online, believing it would alleviate stress. Still, he said he misses campus and his peers.

Zimmerman said he would have attended graduation for the sake of his family and girlfriend, and he finds the virtual format “very underwhelming.”

Like Laver and Fordham, Zimmerman has received no further updates and has no idea what to expect of his commencement. He plans to watch the event on Dec. 18.

“Hopefully we will have a vaccine soon so no one else misses out on this tremendous occasion. I feel bad for anyone whose family really wanted to see them walk and had plans of visiting Athens,” Zimmerman said.

Navam Narula, a computer science major, said he will not watch the virtual ceremony. 

Narula agrees with the online format but said it’s not appealing to him. Given the opportunity, Narula said he would have attended a socially-distanced ceremony but otherwise would not participate.

Narula said he and his family will have their own celebration not involving the UGA ceremony.

For journalism major Kelsey Coffey, the pandemic has put into perspective the importance of what she has and the importance of accepting that some things don’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

“Celebrating moments like graduating are wonderful. But being safe is the number one priority, and the fact that my graduation is going to be on a virtual platform does not take anything away from the accomplishment that I have made in becoming a graduate from the University of Georgia,” Coffey said.

The Oct. 16 in-person ceremony initially gave Coffey hope for her own graduation. She said she would have attended an in-person commencement wearing a face covering and following whatever safety guidelines UGA would have put in place.

Although Coffey is disappointed that she won’t have an in-person ceremony, she respects UGA’s decision to keep faculty and students safe and prevent the possibility of  a spike in cases. 

“I was an orientation leader; I was a member of the student alumni council; I was a Georgia football ambassador. I loved it here, and I will carry this experience with me for the rest of my life. I have some of the most fond memories here in Athens on campus with some of the best people,” Coffey said.