MU replaces in-person commencement with virtual celebration due to safety concerns, generating criticism about large football games

MU decided that it is not safe to have an in-person commencement for graduates in December. The decision generated criticism about the university’s choice to allow fans in the stadium at football games.

Commencement will be replaced with a virtual celebration for MU’s Fall 2020 graduates. MU spokesperson Christian Basi said the decision followed safety concerns regarding COVID-19.

“We’ve been going back and forth and having several conversations about it throughout the semester,” Basi said. “In the end, we came to the conclusion that it was not a safe alternative right now.”

While plans for the virtual commencement celebration are still in the works, MU will release the finalized plans sometime this month, according to the university’s Graduation & Commencement page.

“We did have a nice virtual celebration in May and it’s possible that we may do some similar things for December,” Basi said. “We’re certainly going through what went well at May’s [commencement] and what was popular and what wasn’t.”

Basi said the decision to not have an in-person commencement was largely due to issues with seating. While the Hearnes Center and other large, indoor MU venues were considered, large colleges, such as the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, still would not be able to seat graduates, guests and faculty with enough room to space out safely.

“So, then what do you do?” Basi said. “Do you split those up into multiple graduation ceremonies? And if you do that, you’ve got to really split them up into more than two. Then it comes to the point where that’s not feasible.”

Guests traveling to Columbia from out of town, including those who might be more susceptible to COVID-19, brought more factors to consider. Basi said it is a potential “superspreader” event as many visitors would attend restaurants and bars in addition to commencement.

Basi said MU decided that telling guests who travel to Columbia for the ceremony to quarantine for two weeks wouldn’t work. The university found problems with the possibility of mandatory testing, as well.

“If you ask someone to test the day of, it doesn’t mean anything,” Basi said. “They could be positive and the test could very easily be a false negative.”

Miriam Barquero-Molina, director of MU’s Geology Field Program has faith that the university made the right decision.

“All I can say is that I hope and trust that the university is making the best decision they can to safeguard the health and safety of the Mizzou community at large,” Barquero-Molina said in an email. “In that spirit, I will continue to follow their regulations and recommendations while this pandemic is upon us.”

Senior Elijah Brown does not think that MU made the right decision. Brown, who studies linguistics and Spanish, said that he will graduate from the Honors College as summa cum laude this December. He said he was excited for an in-person commencement.

“They don't really value us as much as they want us to think,” Brown said.

Brown said he believes MU’s decision to replace commencement with a virtual celebration has to do with money.

“Mizzou football makes the school a ton of money,” Brown said. “Graduations, unfortunately, do not … I’m sure if graduation was going to pull in a ton of bucks like Mizzou football does, this wouldn't even be a question.”

Brown is not the only one who has brought up MU football when criticizing commencement plans. Basi has heard this argument before.

“You can’t compare the two at all,” Basi said. “First of all, the venue itself is outdoors for football and is not weather dependent. Football plays no matter what. Fans can decide if they want to go or not.”

For commencement, that is not the case.

“We have a significantly different population that wants to see a graduation,” Basi said. “You cannot ask grandmothers and grandfathers and siblings of all ages to take a bet on the weather in December in Missouri.”

Basi said there is more room to social distance with football games, due to an 11,000-person-limit.

While Brown doesn’t attend MU football games, he’s seen people at games not wearing masks through social media.

“If anything, my family, my people, [would] be really responsible at a convocation,” Brown said. “We’d be wearing our masks.”

As a first-generation college student, Brown said he was excited for his family, particularly his younger cousins, to see him graduate.

“I didn’t have a role model,” Brown said. “So, it's really important that I show this example. Especially graduating summa cum laude in an honors convocation. That would have been great [to look] in the crowd at my cousins and being like, ‘You guys are next.’”

MU plans to have an in-person celebration for the entire class of 2020 when they deem it safe to do so.

“There are no plans in place because we really are still waiting on the science and the research to develop the solution that we are all hoping will come very soon,” Basi said.

Brown is unsure if he will attend this event, but it is likely that he will not.

“I was so ready to graduate this semester, and just close a chapter of my life,” Brown said. “If I'm not going to do it now and I have to wait a semester after I graduate to actually get my commencement, I feel like, personally, it would be a very weird experience for me.”

In his nearly four years at MU, Brown said he feels like he has lost some of his connection to the university that he once had. As a full scholarship student, Brown is “grateful” for the opportunities MU has afforded him. However, he can’t help but see those opportunities as a “blanket” to cover the wrongs done by administration behind closed doors.

“They send this underprivileged Black kid to college for free and [are] like, ‘Okay, he's going to be grateful,’” Brown said. “But I look at all the injustices on this campus and all of the mishandlings by Mun Choi and I just can’t help but think [that] they really want me to love this. Like, yeah, Mizzou has a special place in my heart for the experiences they have provided for me. But I can’t respect a lot of the things that they have done to students like me and the graduating classes of 2020 and 2021.”

Brown plans to attend law school after graduating. While he is still upset about MU’s decision, he is looking forward to starting a new chapter of his life.

“At first I was hurt,” Brown said. “Now there’s just a bad taste in my mouth that won't go away.”

Edited by Lucy Caile|

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