Virtual commencement yields petition

To the disappointment of many spring 2021 graduates, the Office of the Registrar announced on Thursday, Feb. 11 that spring commencement will once again be held virtually amid COVID-19 concerns.

The virtual ceremony is scheduled to take place May 8, and registration for the ceremony will open in the coming weeks.

The decision was made “in order to continue to protect our campus community during the pandemic,” according to the campus email announcing the virtual ceremony.

“We know this is disappointing, but trust you understand that the health and safety of our graduates along with their family and friends is paramount,” the email read.

Senior digital communications major Mili Saliu was disappointed when the announcement was released. She created a petition urging the university to reconsider an in-person graduation ceremony. 

“I read over the email, and I got really mad when I first read it,” Saliu said. “I had no idea what to do. So, I literally Googled how to make a petition, and then I did.”

Saliu was surprised when the petition started to gain traction on social media. 

“I wasn’t even expecting to get 25 signatures, much less one thousand signatures in literally less than 24 hours,” Saliu said. “I think a lot of people feel the same way I do. Students work way too hard not to get the recognition that they deserve.”

As of press time on Sunday, Feb. 14, Saliu’s petition had over 1,600 signatures. She hopes that it will give students a platform in which to express their ideas to the administration.

“UNI always says they advocate for their students, so I just want them to be open to hearing us out,” Saliu said. “I think there are a lot of possible ways we can work on to make (commencement) as safe as possible.”

She continued, “Some of the ideas I’ve been thinking about are distancing student chairs, having smaller ceremonies (and) obviously no one is shaking President Nook’s hand when they walk across the stage. (We can) require masks. We can have students space out when they are filing through. We can limit guest seating. We can not have guests. We can televise the event. There are so many possibilities that I think we can do.”

Saliu’s sentiments were echoed by many UNI students, alumni and parents on social media after the decision was announced. Many commented that even as the May event was cancelled, sporting events with in-person spectators are currently being held.

Over the weekend, student tickets were available on a first-come, first serve basis for both men’s basketball and women’s softball games. Additionally, the UNI home football opener on Feb. 19 will allow limited fans, with capacity being capped at 15%, or 2,715 fans, according to KWWL.

Dylan Albertson, a management information systems major, contacted the Northern Iowan to express their disapproval. They wrote that they consider the university’s decision to be hypocritical.

“Students … feel like they are constantly being stuffed because of more important ‘priorities’ that seem to earn more revenue than the total time seniors spend in time and money at this university,” they wrote. “If it all comes down to the Board of Regents, then I’m just overly disappointed in this states’ representatives and officials.”

UNI public relations manager Steve Schmadeke responded to the NI’s request for comment but was unable to prepare a response by press time. The NI will add any comments received after press time to the online edition of this article.

While she is disappointed in the university’s decision, Saliu also wants to emphasize her love for UNI and acknowledge the clear threat of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I am a huge advocate for UNI,” Saliu said. “When I put this together, none of my intentions were ill mannered or anything of sorts. I absolutely love UNI. I’ve met my best friends here, I love all my classes and my professors are absolutely amazing. I am very much aware of the threat that (COVID-19) places in our community. I am not oblivious to that situation at all, and that’s why I think we should take the necessary precautions in order to make the environment as safe as possible for everyone attending, and for those who do feel unsafe, they can obviously opt out of the ceremony.”