Pandemic prompts SF State’s first winter commencement ceremony

The ceremony, seeking to honor 2020 and 2021 graduates has found a challenge in spreading word of the event

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Cameron Lee

SF State’s commencement will be in person this year at Chase Center for 2020 and 2021 graduates. (Cameron Lee / Golden Gate Xpress)

As Aditi Grossman, a former economics graduate student, sat in her living room last May, she couldn’t help but think how her years of hard work had culminated to a virtual ceremony, without the promise of a last goodbye from friends and the opportunity to have her family watch her receive her class hood.

“The ceremony felt very short-lived and impersonal. My friends and I were all on a group text chat at the time the live stream happened, but all of it happened so quickly that it felt very unexceptional,” she said.

Grossman, who like many, did not get a typical graduation experience, jumped on the opportunity to be part of something much more personal when she was asked to join the graduate committee that would help plan a makeup graduation.

The committee is made up of undergraduate and graduate hood recipients for the years 2020 and 2021 and past and present student leaders, said Nicole Lange, vice president for Alumni Relations and University Engagement.

SF State’s winter commencement ceremony, announced in October, will be held on Saturday,  Jan. 8, 2022, after the ceremonies in 2020 and 2021 were cancelled due to the pandemic. Despite the committees’ attempts to publicize the event, bolstering graduate attendance has been a constant challenge.

“If it was a traditional on-campus semester and we’d heard about graduation, we’d be talking to our friends and making plans,” Grossman said. “But also it’s a year later and our cohort has moved on so getting people to know about the event and come has been challenging.”

The ceremony – which will take place in-person at Chase Center instead of Oracle Park and will include a virtual livestream – began as an idea presented to students through surveys sent out by the commencement office to gauge interest in the event.

“We created an entirely new ceremony in a new location so I took this as an opportunity to try something new…but with a new location comes all different processes,” Lange said. So far 1,000 graduates have signed up to participate in the ceremony with an overall available capacity of 14,000 guests.

At first, Sam Sotomayor, a theater major who graduated in 2020, was adamant about using those surveys to push for a ceremony that would mirror their own five year struggle and serve as a tribute to their parents’ support.

Nearly two years later, Sotomayor realized that their desire for the belated ceremony had waned. The graduate, who had since moved to San Diego found it difficult to gather their family, arrange the trip and hotel stays on such short notice.

“I don’t feel the same way as I did about graduation once the pandemic started…I really don’t care as much anymore because I don’t feel it’s possible to have so many people in one place now,” Sotomayor said.

SF State’s Media Relations Specialist, Kent Bravo, said that besides emails, information was presented to graduates through the university’s standard social media channels such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and even LinkedIn to provide as broad of an outreach approach as possible. 

Text messages will be the newest addition to the list of informational efforts but above all, Lange said the key is word of mouth amongst graduates. She said committees expect numbers to grow past what they are now and will have an exact determination of attendees by December 24 when the online ticket sale closes.

“We want to make sure that we make good on our promise to give students and their loved ones the special and monumental day of having an in-person ceremony,” Lange said.

Planning was strongly based on consideration for accessibility, time, and the city’s health ordinances to best accommodate all student and faculty needs. 

In addition, Lange said all in attendance will follow the county and venue health protocols throughout the ceremony. As of now, the new COVID variant “Omicron” has no further bearing on the day’s event-which includes no need for other safety modifications of any kind- but any changes will be continuously monitored.

“I’m excited to hug my friends and see faculty and I think it makes it all that more special that we’ve fought not only for this degree but also a pandemic,” Grossman said.

All information for graduates is available at SF State’s Commencement page.