Fresno State’s Associated Students Inc. (ASI) discussed the merits of holding a virtual commencement ceremony over an in-person alternative with administration and students during the ASI senate meeting on Wednesday.
The senate held a meeting with campus administration after several students disagreed with the university’s decision to hold a virtual graduation ceremony for the class of 2020 and 2021.
Fresno State student Victoria Melanson created a petition, which has garnered over 2,250 signatures, asking for university officials to work with students to consider an alternative form of commencement and graduation ceremony as opposed to a virtual form.
“We are asking Fresno State to consider working with students to create a ceremony that celebrates our achievements and gives our families a chance to see us graduate. So many students have worked tirelessly to get their degrees. They should be celebrated outside of the zoom setting we have all [been] stuck in,” Melanson said.
During the senate meeting, Fresno State Interim President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval said that the university is considering an alternative commencement ceremony for both the class of 2020 and the class of 2021.
In a recent survey submitted by the university in collaboration with ASI, the two alternatives for commencement shown were a limited in-person commencement ceremony or a drive-in style ceremony.
“We are planning a joint celebration with the class of 2020 and 2021. We will try our best as possible to really showcase the talents of 2020 and also the talent of 2021,” Jiménez-Sandoval said.
With eight colleges at Fresno State, the university can’t do a celebration for both the class of 2020 and 2021 because it would be a total of 16 ceremonies, Jiménez-Sandoval said. Instead, he added the university is planning for the individual colleges to have their ceremonies, but the university is exploring other options.
Earlier on Wednesday, ASI held a meeting where the class of 2020 and 2021 could share their opinion on the commencement ceremony in May. Several ASI senators shared many of the students’ opinions to the administration in the senate meeting.
Senator of Student Affairs Allison Bacani said many students felt that their voices or opinions on the commencement ceremony were left out when the university announced the virtual commencement ceremony for both the class of 2020 and the class of 2021.
“What we can do as a senate is to make sure [student] voices are heard and transparently communicate that to administration… it’s all up to the university in my opinion,” Bacani said.
Senator of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Fernando Garcia added that students criticized the university for being able to host in-person labs and sporting events yet refuse to host a commencement ceremony.
In-person events are slowly returning, and many students are sick of things being held virtually or pushed off, said Senator of Greek Affairs Malakeh Jaber. She added that many in-person events throughout the state are slowly returning including several events being hosted in the Save Mart Center starting as soon as June 5.
“I do think that there are precautions we can take to make sure commencement is done in person and that it’s done in a way that is safe,” Jaber said.
Executive Vice President Hisham Qutob voiced support for a virtual commencement and graduation ceremony due to the serious nature of the pandemic and about the moral issues in regards to putting people at risk.
“The pandemic is no joke and it’s nothing to be taken lightly or [easy] or to possibly avoid. I believe as morally and as ethically as where we sit as students, student leaders and as just human beings,” Qutob said.
Qutob added he doesn’t feel comfortable putting people in a situation where a loved one could possibly lose their life.
Qutob acknowledged that commencement is a symbolic event for students and their family members especially being a first-generation student himself, however, he said students should consider the virtual ceremony for the greater good of everyone’s health.
Fresno State student Natalia Benik said the senate should find a middle ground with the administration to find a safe alternative in-person ceremony.
Vice President of External Affairs Fidel Moreno-Meza reminded the senators and students that the development of the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccine is not as universal as it seems, and that they should refrain from comparing the situation in Fresno County to other places.
“I know we’ve heard a lot about other counties, specifically San Diego and other universities. No county in California is on the same boat … It’s not just the university making the decision on their own it’s a lot of research between the county, state and federal government,” Moreno-Meza said.