Lindenwood cancels fall 2020 commencement ceremonies amid COVID-19 concerns

Alexis Montgomery and Taylor McDaniel

Lindenwood will no longer be holding on-ground fall 2020 graduation ceremonies this November, and some students aren’t happy with the decision.

In an email that was sent to students on Tuesday morning, students scheduled to walk in the Nov. 21-22 commencement ceremonies were informed that they would not be able to walk due to health and safety concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I am reaching out to you today to let you know that after much deliberation, we have made the difficult decision to cancel all on-ground commencement ceremonies for Lindenwood University for Fall 2020,” Mark Arant, provost and vice president of academic affairs, said in the email. “Lindenwood feels very fortunate to have been able to offer students the opportunity to return to campus for in-person learning for the fall of 2020.

“We are extremely disappointed that we are unable to host in-person commencement ceremonies in November; however, we are also making this decision with the best interest of health and safety for our students, their families and the entire Lindenwood community.”

Though the in-person ceremony is canceled, the email said that Lindenwood plans to have a virtual ceremony in December that will honor all graduates. 

The announcement is disappointing to many students, especially those who were told they could attend the fall 2020 commencement ceremonies after the spring 2020 cancelation. 

“It made me feel a little bit better knowing that a socially distanced ceremony was possible,” said spring 2020 graduate, Alyssa Savage. “I was shaking as I read that email.”

On Oct. 6, a week before the commencement cancellation announcement, an email was sent out to all graduates which included the detailed plan for the November ceremonies.

“You can’t tell me this conversation wasn’t happening a week ago when we received detailed instructions for the November ceremony,” Savage said.

Arant said in an email that a lot of time was invested into planning for commencement and that they have explored many possible options.

“While physical distancing had been resolved, the logistics of safely staffing four ceremonies to serve individuals traveling in from COVID hotspots became too difficult,” Arant said.

Kendall Whiteman, a spring 2020 graduate, said she was shocked with the decision.

“We have been kept in the dark about all of this and then time after time, we are blindsided with their decisions, and we can’t do anything to change their minds,” Whiteman said. “It is our wellbeing that they are dealing with, so it would have been nice to have an outlet to express our opinions or alternate ideas, but we were never given the opportunity.”

Students are also frustrated that the university will not have a commencement ceremony but is currently allowing in-person classes. 

“How can they claim that hosting an hour and a half ceremony is more dangerous than having students back on campus and going to class in person for the fall semester,” Savage said. “It makes me feel like they don’t care about me as a graduate and that’s something I’m going to remember.”

Spring 2020 graduate Erica Wines earned an associate degree at a community college. She decided to forgo the chance to walk in that ceremony because she knew she wanted her graduation experience to be with Lindenwood.

“I’ve been dying to graduate from this college ever since my senior year of high school, which was back in 2012,” Wines said.

Wines said she was disappointed not to walk in the spring, but she’s more infuriated to find out the fall 2020 commencement is cancelled since it seems “out of the blue.”

“At this point I want to be removed from any alumni emails or events because I don’t even want to associate that I went here,” Wines said.

Wines is not the only one losing the opportunity to walk. Spring 2020 graduate Ashley Lowtharp is the only child in her family who has earned a four-year degree. Lowtharp said she was looking forward to graduation as a symbol of the closing of that chapter of her life.

“It just feels like life is now at a standstill,” Lowtharp said.

As for the $100 graduation fee, Arant said Lindenwood will not refund students. This fee is not paying for the ceremony but rather the processes related to degree completion.

While another graduation ceremony has been canceled, Lindenwood is hoping to make up for it in the future. 

“We are working closely with Alumni Relations, and are excited to welcome all graduates back to campus for future celebrations,” Arant said in an email.

Students scheduled to graduate this semester should expect their degrees to confer a month after finishing coursework, according to the email. 

“Following their degree conferral, students will receive an email from Academic Services to verify their name and shipping address for their diploma,” the email read. “Diplomas should arrive by mail within eight weeks after conferral.”

Lindenwood will post more information on the commencement website regarding the virtual commencement ceremonies scheduled to take place in December.