Graduation season has begun! While as many 2021 graduates are gearing up to have their own in-person commencement ceremonies, many 2020 graduates have come to realize that they will never have their own.
A college graduation is a long standing tradition in the US. One of the major parts of graduation is coming together with one’s family, friends and classmates to celebrate their accomplishments. Many consider it to be a symbol for the end of adolescence and the start of adulthood. Graduating is a culmination of desire, hard work and sacrifice or something that many feel can’t be properly encompassed in a virtual commencement ceremony.
When NC State announced that it did not plan to include the Class of 2020 in it’s in-person Spring 2021 graduation plans, many Class of 2020 were disappointed. Many Class of 2020 students were already disappointed when NC State announced that they would celebrate the class of 2020 with their first-ever virtual commencement ceremony on December 4th, 2020.
Gwen Hopper, who is a part of NC State’s Class of 2020 and is now getting her PhD in Chemistry at the University of South Carolina, decided that she would fight for her class. She started a petition calling for NC State to give it’s 2020 Graduates an in-person Commencement ceremony.
Nubian’s Managing Editor, Ugonna Ezuma-Igwe, was able to sit down and speak to Ms. Hopper.
NM: Why did you create your petition?
Hopper: So I created a petition because I read online that NC state was having an in person graduation ceremony for a class of 2021. And I was really excited. I was like if they can do one for class of 2021, then surely they’re going to include class of 2020, because all my friends who go to different universities have been sending me their tickets. So I emailed the Dean and one of the assistant deans for the college of sciences, and asked if we were included and they were saying, no, basically. I’m like well, are you going to advocate for us to be included? And they basically said, no, in so many words. And so I was like, okay, well, if you’re not going to advocate for us, then I’m going to have to advocate for us. And so then that’s when I started the petition.
NM: Why do you think they didn’t give you all a graduation in person?
Hopper: I think that NC state wanted us to be okay with the video that they put out in December. I don’t know if they thought they did a good job with the “virtual commencement” that they gave us. According to almost everyone, it was very subpar. It just didn’t encompass everything that it should have. So I think the reason that NC state is not giving us in-person commencement is that they have COVID guidelines. And so they have capacity restrictions. And to that point us 2020 graduates were like, well, it doesn’t have to be the exact same ceremony. We can do ours on a different weekend. We just want to have a ceremony. And then NC state didn’t have anything to say to that.
NM: So you proposed solutions and they weren’t willing to really hear you out on your solutions?
Hopper: I didn’t receive any email response back after proposing that solution.
NM: How does not having a graduation affect your perspective of NC state?
Hopper: I’m a proud alumni but at the same time, I had a bleak view of my experience [at NC STATE] just because State is a predominantly white institution, they don’t support their black students and other students of color how they should. So graduating, I was super excited and I’m like, surely they want to honor their students from all these various backgrounds that they claim to be proud of. And so I went off to grad school and it’s a year later and I still feel the same. I don’t feel like I actually ever finished.. I guess it makes you take the rose colored glasses off for the institution that it is.
NM: Many people like to say, it’s[ Graduation} just ceremonial. The main thing is that you got your degree. But from what I’m hearing you say it’s something different. It has a different effect on your college experience.
Hopper: Exactly. Because there’s this thing that, you know, that every other graduate from NC state has had a chance to experience and you could have a chance to experience, but your university is choosing not to give you that.
NM: How does it feel that especially as a black graduate of NC state that like once again NC state has kind of let you down. Were you hoping they would listen to you?
Hopper: I was hoping they would listen when I found out that schools like UNCG, North Carolina A&T, East Carolina, UNC Charlotte… were giving their 2020 grads a real graduation, I was like, NC state is such a huge institution. Their name, for lack of better words, holds so much weight. Like they should be leading this charge.. They’re doing [graduation] at Carter Finley which they own… There’s no reason for them not to give it to us. But then to send out all these emails after emails, like day of giving please donate back and it’s like, you want my money for your institution, but you don’t want to actually honor us as graduates from your institution.
NM: Does this experience change how much you’re willing to be a part of NC state’s community now that you graduated?
Hopper: It does because how can I be a proud alumni of an institution that forgot about my entire graduating class? And I’ve always said like, especially as a community oriented person, I always want to give back to communities that give to me. So this isn’t going to change how I am an alumni to society for multicultural scientists or to the chemistry department or to certain groups within the college of sciences, like student affairs and Dr. Simpson. But it will definitely change how I’m an alumni of the university as a whole.