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What About The Class Of 2020?

On Wednesday, Penn State announced its plans to hold in-person commencement ceremonies for the Class of 2021. During a time as bleak and grim as the COVID-19 pandemic, it was fantastic to hear that my friends in the Class of 2021 will be able to celebrate an achievement as significant as graduating college with their loved ones — even if they’re bringing only two family members each.

After I read the university’s announcement, I was left with one question: What about the Class of 2020?

I am one of the thousands of students who graduated from Penn State last spring. My celebrations consisted of watching the university’s virtual 30-minute livestream in my basement and having dinner with my siblings, father, and aunt at 3 p.m. (because that’s what we do when we’re celebrating a holiday or big family accomplishment, apparently).

Before I air my grievances, I understand that COVID-19 isn’t exclusively a Penn State problem — and I understand that there are far more significant problems that the pandemic has caused than graduation ceremonies being canceled. Penn State, to put it lightly, has had a lot on its plate over the last calendar year, including (but not limited to) finding logistical solutions to shifting course delivery online and a massive loss of revenue due to sports being played without fans (or not played at all).

However, it’s hard not to feel like Penn State has moved on from celebrating the Class of 2020. If you read the university’s announcement about the 2021 commencement ceremonies, my graduating class was only mentioned in a brief, buzzword-filled paragraph buried at the end.

“In partnership with the Penn State Alumni Association and in consultation with alumni representatives, the University is planning for a special weekend in spring 2022 to celebrate the members of the class of 2020,” the announcement reads. “More information and a specific date will be forthcoming as the University continues to develop plans to welcome recent graduates and their families back to campuses next spring with a variety of activities and events. In addition, Commonwealth Campuses will communicate specific plans for their alumni.”

Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but that paragraph feels like a swift slap in the face. It makes me think that someone in Penn State’s media department finished writing the Class of 2021 commencement press release and was ready to hit “send,” but then one of their colleagues said, “Wait, what about the Class of 2020?”

That 80-word paragraph contains only one bit of new information. I’ve known that Penn State was making plans for a “special weekend” to celebrate the Class of 2020 since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Now, I know that I’ll need to wait another year before the university does something to acknowledge my graduation in some way beyond a 30-minute YouTube livestream and a banner with all of the graduates’ names on it in the football stadium (quick aside: I still haven’t seen my name on that S-Zone banner).

Clearly, Penn State has been unwilling or unable to set aside a group of people to make concrete plans for a spring 2020 commencement celebration. I fully understand how difficult the situation is because of COVID-19, and I also get that it may not be safe for us to celebrate together for a while. But one new 80-word paragraph in the last year simply isn’t enough information for me.

In contrast, my family was planning on attending not one, but two commencement ceremonies in completely different parts of the country before they got canceled. My twin brother’s academic college at the University of Tennessee was set to hold its commencement ceremony at 9 a.m. on May 9, and mine was going to take place at 1 p.m. My family was going to rush out of Knoxville and hop on a plane to State College to just barely make it to my ceremony thanks to these logistics, but they would’ve done it without a second thought solely because of the significance of the achievement.

Obviously, my family’s commencement plans were a bit more unique (read: intense) than your ho-hum, “just-outside-of-Philly” folks who were going to drive out to State College for the weekend (not to be reductive about those families, who likely booked hotels at exorbitant rates months, if not years in advance of commencement). But there’s a clear contrast between how much our families cared about making it to graduation and how much Penn State cares about honoring the Class of 2020 after the fact.

I’m not sure if I’m cynical enough to believe Penn State only cares about the financial bottom-line (yet), so I won’t level that criticism fully. But the way that Penn State has handled honoring the Class of 2020 could potentially impact that, too. I, as a member of the graduating class that won’t have any sort of in-person celebration for at least another calendar year, feel ostracized and ignored by Penn State. Because of that, I am now significantly less likely to make a financial gift to the university down the road – and it’s entirely possible that some of my classmates feel the same way.

In my mind, Penn State clearly doesn’t give a shit about the Class of 2020. Until I see some clear, concrete actions taken to disprove that statement, I don’t give a shit about Penn State, either.

This post, written by Onward State alum Mikey Mandarino, was submitted entirely independently as part of our community content program. You could have your content published on Onward State by submitting it here.

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

In the most upsetting turn of events, Mikey graduated from Penn State with a digital & print journalism degree in the spring of 2020. He covered Penn State football and served as an editor for Onward State from 2018 until his graduation. Mikey is from Bedminster, New Jersey, so naturally, he spends lots of time yelling about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey also loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is really hard. If you, for some reason, feel compelled to see what Mikey has to say on the internet, follow him on Twitter @Mikey_Mandarino. You can also get in touch with Mikey via his big-boy email address: [email protected]

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