As the 2021 spring semester approaches, soon-to-be Cal State Fullerton graduates are anxiously waiting to see what their commencement ceremony will look like.
In an announcement earlier this week, the California State University system shared that it will anticipate an in-person 2021-22 academic year. Ellen Treanor, the chief communications officer for CSUF, said that she remains optimistic about the possible return to campus next fall.
On Sunday, the Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine and about 3 million shots are expected to arrive Monday across the country. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top disease expert, said he expects a vaccine to be widely available to the public sometime between April and June.
However, on Nov. 16, Orange County reentered the most restrictive reopening tier, and on Dec. 6 Southern California went under a new stay-at-home order after a surge in COVID-19 cases.
The progression and regression of the pandemic have brought confusion to graduating seniors. Lorrayne Zamora, a business major at CSUF, questions why an in-person commencement is difficult to host when Orange County guidelines allowed businesses to open safely in the past.
“It makes sense for them to accommodate for the people that are graduating because they have outdoor dining open and then they have shops open for people, especially in the holidays, like everyone is shopping,” Zamora said. “It just makes sense for them to be able to keep that social distance for the commencement.”
CSUF has held graduation focus groups to take student voices and opinions into account when making decisions. Kimberly Cruz, a communications major at CSUF, attended one of the meetings and said three main options were discussed.
One option would be a drive-thru styled commencement where graduates would be able to attend graduation alongside their families in cars, with only the graduate leaving the vehicle to walk the stage, Cruz said.
Another option would be an in-person graduates-only ceremony where families would be able to tune in to a stream to reduce foot-traffic on campus during the ceremony, Cruz said.
The final option would be another online commencement in which graduates would be able to customize their own slides for a graduation presentation stream, Cruz said. This option is familiar to those who graduated in the 2020-21 term.
Cruz said when students were asked their preference for a commencement, most seniors wanted to be acknowledged for their hard work while also acknowledging pandemic safety.
“We are in a pandemic, these are really, really tough times and I've lost family members to COVID and so I know how serious this is and I've been really, really safe this whole time. I don't even go out,” Cruz said. “On the flipside, graduation is something that I've been looking forward to ever since I started college. This is something that I’ve dreamt about.”
Cruz said as a first-generation college student and a Latina, a graduation ceremony is more than just walking across a stage and receiving a diploma. It’s a reflection of all the hard work that she endured.
Marco Munoz, human services major at CSUF, believes that commencement should go forward while abiding by mask mandates.
“I would want to do it in person just because I just kind of dreaming of this moment like your whole life and you have those long, long semesters. And that’s the only thing that keeps you going, so I think I wouldn’t mind going in person, as long as we get our masks out,” Munoz said.