chloe arndt
Photo of Senior Chloe Arndt

MU Listens to Students, Reschedules Commencement 2020 for Fall

Chloe Leckrone

Commencement for the Class of 2020, which was originally cancelled through a Mar. 17 email from President McFadden, has been rescheduled for October 17-18, 2020.

And students get the credit.

After reading McFadden’s email stating all Commencement events, including graduation, would be cancelled due to COVID-19, senior Chloe Arndt felt inspired to create an online petition to ask the university to consider rescheduling it.

The news saddened Arndt, as it did many of her peers who realized they would not be getting the graduation they had been anticipating for so long. “Being a senior and having my last semester ripped away from me so quickly, I was feeling an abundance of emotions,” Arndt said. “Not only was my last semester gone too soon, but I also had to deal with the fact that I was not going to have the graduation ceremony that I have worked so hard for.”

Arndt’s heartbreak quickly turned into inspiration. She noticed that friends from other colleges were in similar situations and had created online petitions to ask their administrations to consider rescheduling their graduation ceremonies. At first, Arndt hoped that one of her classmates might step up and start a petition, but as days passed and nothing seemed to appear, Arndt decided she should take the lead.

“On behalf of the Class of 2020, we request that the Spring Commencement be postponed, rather than canceling it and giving us a ‘virtual experience,’” wrote Arndt in the petition description.

She went on to justify this request by writing, “Graduation commemorates years of hard work, personal growth, and contributions to our Manchester community. As Manchester students we have looked forward to hearing our name being called while walking the stage to receive our diplomas. There are hundreds of students that would lose this moment they can never get back, and it is one a virtual experience can’t ever replace.”

On Mar. 26, Arndt posted the petition on her various social media accounts, including Facebook and Twitter. The response from her peers was overwhelmingly positive. Quickly, fellow MU students, family members, and friends from other schools began sharing the petition.

“I received many messages from students and family thanking me for creating this petition and sticking up for our 2020 graduate class because they were just as heartbroken as I was,” Arndt said. “They were happy to see that someone spoke out in an attempt to make this change and give these students what they deserve.” As of April 13, the petition had reached 1,737 signatures, with a goal of 2,500.

Soon after the petition was posted online, President McFadden became aware of it through Julie Knuth, an executive assistant in his office, who manages Commencement. Knuth later sent out a survey to all seniors with alternative options for Commencement: a virtual ceremony where graduates submit videos and photos, rescheduling graduation for the summer once large gatherings are allowed again, a virtual ceremony and a celebration at next year’s Homecoming, or a combined celebration with the graduates of the Class of 2021.

McFadden ultimately agreed with Arndt and the many petition-signers who hoped for a rescheduled ceremony, and admitted that because decisions had to be made so quickly, the cancellations were not handled as well as they could have been.

Mid-March, as it became increasingly clear to McFadden that COVID-19 was spreading more rapidly and more precautions were being taken around the country, he knew that spring events and activities would need to be cancelled. These cancellations started on a smaller scale, with early spring athletic events, then athletic practices, and eventually all spring athletic events.

After this, came bigger campus-wide events. “When we got to the place where we realized we wouldn’t resume classes on campus for the spring, we cancelled all spring events, including commencement,” McFadden said.

“At the time,” he continued, “events were unfolding so quickly that we made decisions to cancel events knowing that we’d need to come back and find alternatives. Commencement is a great example. We knew we would find another way to do it. In hindsight, we could have been clearer about our plans to do that when we first announced it.”

One of Arndt’s biggest concerns was with the decision to cancel Commencement but merely to postpone Giving Day, a day of philanthropy—fund raising-––for the university. “I felt so hurt by Manchester choosing to postpone an event where they just collect money from people, but cancel a ceremony for the students who have put so much time, energy, stress, tears, effort and money into the last four years,” Arndt said.

And McFadden listened. Now the plan is to reschedule both events, with Commencement taking place over two days: on Saturday, Oct. 17, the university will hold its Pharmacy Hooding ceremony and Graduate and Professional Commencement (Doctorate in Pharmacy, Master of Athletic Training, and Master of Pharmacogenomics) in Cordier Auditorium; on Sunday, Oct. 18, it will hold the Undergraduate and Accountancy Commencement.

“We want to celebrate with our graduates,” McFadden said. And with this rescheduled Commencement falling the weekend before Fall Break, perhaps the PERC will be a comfortable temperature, too, for a win-win-win situation.