On the third of April 2021, The University of Manchester sent out an email informing its students that they would not be holding a summer graduation.
Quite honestly, it broke my heart.
I found it fitting that the same university denying us a graduation has been involved in so many scandals in the past year, from the fences surrounding student accommodation and the racial profiling of a student, to the refusal to give students a ‘No disadvantage policy’ as a safety net.
Over and over again, throughout my degree, the university has let its students down. My second year was severely affected by staff strikes. I stand with and support the teachers and staff who make the university function. But if the university had agreed to meet with their own staff and listen to their requests, I might not have missed out on crucial teaching.
Towards the end of my second year, the pandemic hit and I decided to return home to my family, fearing that I would get stuck on campus during the summer. After a semester of rocky online teaching, I thought things would be better in my third year. They were not.
After a whole year of online teaching, battles with Mitigating Circumstances, fear of meeting friends because of the pandemic, and even paying for accommodation which I was not legally allowed to access; I thought maybe, just maybe, I would be able to have a graduation.
Alas, the university has said that they will not be holding a ceremony because they are prioritising the health of students, staff and their respective families.
Naturally, I too believe that health is the number one priority, and that no one should have to miss their graduation because they feel unsafe. Nonetheless, there is no denying that this decision appears nonsensical, seeing as the Government’rs current ‘roadmap’ predicts that by the 21st of June, there will be no restrictions on gatherings or social interactions.
Not only will there be no legal restrictions, but there are a number of measures that the university could take to ensure the ceremony goes on in a secure way. These are just a few that I have thought of:
- Limiting attendance to graduands and one guest only.
- Testing graduands and guests the day before or morning of the ceremony (could take advantage of the new free testing available to all adults in Britain).
- Dividing large ceremonies into smaller ones, possibly limited to thirty people (similar to the current restriction for weddings and funerals).
- Holding the ceremony outside in big open spaces where attendees can social distance.
- Ensuring everyone wears masks and gloves.
- Providing graduands who cannot travel back to the UK due to travel restrictions with an alternative date.
The list goes on. It is not really a matter of safety or security, the university just does not appear willing to explore these options.
Other students do not feel the same however, as they remain concerned with the safety of the ceremonies and support the university’s position. Nonetheless, we all share the same disappointment.
Anna Jin, a final year student, shared her views with me:
‘I agree with the university’s decision not to hold in-person graduation ceremonies this summer. I understand that despite the government’s potential lifting of restrictions, many people will not feel safe attending an in-person graduation ceremony and many students will also not have the ability to travel to Manchester by June, so I think this is the right decision.
‘However, I still can’t help but feel very disappointed, because I wanted to attend my graduation in person. This is going to sound like a cliche but even though I am in privileged position to be having this problem at all and people have suffered much more due to the pandemic, I cannot help to to feel like I have been robbed of my university experience this year, and this new announcement feels like rubbing salt on the wound.
‘My graduation ceremony was something that I had been looking forward to since year one, and postponing it just doesn’t sit right with me. People have tried to comfort me by saying that since I am taking a masters, I will have a graduation next year anyways, but neither a delayed ceremony or a graduation for a one-year degree can make up for having no celebration after a three year degree in my opinion.‘
Another student who chose to remain anonymous, shared their thoughts:
‘I really disagree [with the University’s decision]. I feel like graduation is such an important part of university, something I’ve looked forward to for my whole life, and to have it taken away when it doesn’t even go against government guidelines seems so absurd to me.’
While the university maintains they are working towards holding a ceremony ‘before Summer 2022’ I have stopped believing in these empty promises. As many students have pointed out, last year’s class did not get a graduation either, and no one seems to have made any concrete plans to provide them with one.
None of us saw this pandemic coming, and it comes down to bad luck that we are the generation experiencing it during our years at university. With our grades affected by online learning and mental health difficulties, our degrees devalued due to the pandemic, and a growing employment crisis, it seems as though they could have, at the very least, given us a graduation.
Throughout my entire degree, much like most students, I have been looking forward to the moment where I could proudly wear my cap and gown, and reflect on the work I have achieved. Especially since these ceremonies do not exist in the country where I grew up. The University of Manchester is depriving us of one of the most iconic, happy, and important experiences of our lives, and there doesn’t seem to be a sufficient justification for it.