SF State’s Virtual Commencement Ceremony breaks the internet

The error that participants of the virtual ceremony encountered.

The error that participants of the virtual ceremony encountered.

Cierra Quintana

SF State’s Virtual Commencement Ceremony on June 18 represented a change in how milestones are conducted in the reality of COVID-19, and despite the school’s efforts, many students felt that the commencement failed to properly honor them as graduates.

With difficulties such as a faulty link that crashed and difficulty logging in, the ceremony was followed with frustration and dissatisfaction from graduates via Reddit and other social media platforms.

Cyn Gradilla, a psychology graduate, was a bit disappointed with how SF State proposed commencement.

“The way the school promoted it and the way that EOP had us sending a bunch of stuff in to be displayed during graduation only to just see our names scroll by and nothing else … it kind of felt like a let down,” Gradilla said. “Students have been attempting to do our own version of our graduation in a PowerPoint so that we felt it more personal versus being just a name on a screen scrolling by, but I know the school was trying to do their best.”

This was the first digital commencement for SF State. It comes on the heels of student frustration over a cancelled commencement in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an email sent to SF State graduates, SF State President Lynn Mahoney stated, “Thousands of you completed the commencement survey we sent out recently, and many others shared your thoughts via email or social media. We have listened. The vast majority of students would like two celebrations: a virtual ceremony this spring and an in-person ceremony once COVID-19 mitigations allow.”

The traditional commencement is tentatively planned for 2021, when it is hopefully safer to have large gatherings according to an email sent out by President Mahoney on May 4.

Jennifer Garcia, a 2020 graduate and the first in her family to receive a college diploma, was also upset. “It made it even worse knowing how short the virtual commencement was. My own family was bummed out about how they structured it. I felt as if SFSU was just like, ‘Alright, here’s your diploma. Bye.’ That’s not how I wanted to remember my graduation,” Garcia said.

“Virtual commencement was definitely not what I had in mind. Coming from a family where no one has gone to college really hurt me to tell my family that I wasn’t going to be able to have a formal commencement,” Garcia said. “However, I’m just glad I am done with my B.A. Commencement or not, I still did my thing.”

Maxwell Lyons, a Business major graduate, said participating in the ceremony from his home in New Jersey was underwhelming– especially given the difficulty of remotely finishing his schooling.

“I transferred here from a small school in New Jersey– where I’m from. Going to school 2,500 miles away from home is obviously tough,” Lyons said. “I’m so proud of the person I’ve become, and for this ceremony to be at home was such a let down. Having the ceremony last less than 15-16 minutes was a horrible let down.”

For the virtual commencement to take place, a team of developers worked behind the scenes to plan for the special day. Nicole Marie Lange, associate vice president of University Engagement and Protocol, was part of that team.

“Based on feedback from the students, they wanted to be recognized. With so many graduates, calling names would have taken over four hours, so this was the best option until we can be together for an in-person ceremony,” Lange said. “We had a registration form where graduates could upload a photo and answer some fun questions. The profiles all showed up on the app, so graduates had the opportunity to take the time and see their fellow graduates. It also gave them the opportunity to connect with one another before and after the ceremony.”

Most of the difficulties were based on working remotely. The developer team wishes it had more resources to perfect the ceremony.

“In-person meetings and having all of the university’s resources available on campus are so helpful when planning something this size, so it was an adjustment to get feedback and to communicate online and through email,” Lange said.

Despite the difficult circumstances, Mayor London Breed and Renel Brooks-Moon made it a point to exhibit the city’s support for the graduates by lighting City Hall in purple and gold.

“Keep everything you’ve learned at San Francisco State University in your heart, and continue to give back to the community,” Breed said. “We need our young leaders now. We need you to help change the course of the country.”