Wayne State held its Class of 2021 Commencement virtually on Wednesday to celebrate the achievements of students. WSU is looking forward to a 2022 in-person celebration, including pandemic graduates. 

May 2021 Commencement began at 9 a.m. with the Graduate School celebration and ended the ceremonies with the Irvin D. Reid Honors College starting at 3 p.m. All celebrations can be viewed on WSU’s website. 

“We want the students to feel special about this day,” said Jack Raab, senior director of Special Events at WSU. “We want them to feel that their accomplishment is appreciated and that their hard work is not going unrecognized.”

In May 2020, WSU held commencement virtually in response to the pandemic. A virtual commencement was also held in December 2020.

In comparison to May 2020’s graduation ceremony, Raab said this spring’s commencement is “drastically different” since the circumstances and the amount of time to prepare have changed.

“In the early stages of the pandemic, we weren't sure what was happening at the time,” Raab said. “So basically, there was a ceremony, which was a virtual ceremony, but it wasn't as well thought out and planned as it perhaps should have been.”

This year, commencement has a similar flow to that of an in-person celebration but it will be shortened, Raab said. The administrators involved will carry out their typical roles during the ceremony, and it will be recorded for remote viewing, he said.

Breanna Simmons, WSU graphic design graduate, said she is understanding of the circumstances but is tired of in-person activities being moved online.

“I think the virtual graduation is a very thoughtful idea during these uncertain times,” she said. “I also think that many people are over everything being virtual, myself included, so attending a virtual commencement will not be in my plans this year.”

Others, however, were still excited for the festivities. Riya Chhabra, WSU Student Senate president, said while she wished the end of her college career would have been an in-person experience, WSU did what needed to be done to protect students and their families.

“It's bittersweet because although it is exciting to be graduating, it is a little sad that we're not able to celebrate in person,” Chhabra said. “But that being said, I think it is still the right decision because of how the situation is in Michigan. It is very important that we continue to follow the public health guidelines in order to keep everyone safe. ”

An in-person commencement ceremony has been planned for spring 2022 to make up for the virtual celebration. Raab said he is looking forward to today’s graduates participating.  

“We're hoping that (seniors) all will come back in April ‘22 and be with us for whatever we do at that time,” he said.

The opportunity for an in-person commencement may be welcomed by some seniors, but Simmons said it is unlikely she will participate in the festivities. 

“Since I will have been graduated for a year in 2022, I probably won’t want to come back to walk across the stage,” Simmons said. “I walked across the stage when I received my Associates from Macomb Community College, so I got the experience. I think coming back a year later will be a little strange, and hopefully our lives will be back to normal by that time so we don’t have to think about what we’ve been through.”

Raab said although a virtual program is not ideal, WSU did its best to make the occasion meaningful for graduates.

“We'd like to do a whole lot more for the students. This is a very special day, it's a very significant day for many graduating students,” Raab said. “They may be the only ones in our families that have graduated or are going through this... so as much as possible, we've tried to retain the look and feel of commencements as best we can.”

Alanna Williams is a correspondent for The South End. She can be reached at alannawilliams@wayne.edu.

Screenshot taken of Dean of Students David Strauss and Interim Provost Laurie Lauzon Clabo during the 2021 virtual commencement video.