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Graduates’ joy may not get on-stage expression

by Jerome Wright —

LeMoyne-Owen College graduating senior Joe Rains Mvula (M-voo-la) is looking forward to marching across the stage in May to receive his bachelor’s degree in mathematics.

But for Mvula and thousands of graduating seniors at high schools, and colleges and universities across the country, they may not experience the exhilaration that comes from the cheering and applauding of relatives and friends, who came to witness the ceremony.

The spread of the coronavirus across the United States has resulted in high school and higher education officials across the nation cancelling ceremonies as a way to protect graduates, their families and friends.

Among the universities was the University of Michigan, which impacted more than the 9,000 students who would have been eligible to graduate in May, along with estimated tens of thousands of guests who normally would attend the event.

Sporting, religious and other venues have done the same.

Their decisions are underpinned by a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that any gathering over 50 or more people should be banned to help slow the spread of the virus.

President Donald Trump went a step further during a virus-update news conference this week, saying any gathering above 10 people should be avoided.

Locally, Southwest Tennessee Community College announced Tuesday that “To minimize the spread of infectious disease, (the college) has canceled all scheduled campus events and activities through May 31, 2020.  In addition, the annual commencement ceremony on May 2 … at FedExForum will be rescheduled. …”

The University of Tennessee-Knoxville announced Monday that “traditional graduation ceremonies have been canceled for May.”

LeMoyne-Owen, like most college and public education  campuses, has extended its spring break until March 30 because of the virus scare. As of Tuesday, the college had made no decision about cancelling its annual commencement ceremony on May 9.

While LOC students are enjoying the extra time off, Mvula and his graduating peers are worried that on-campus classes could be cancelled for the remainder of the semester.

“For graduating seniors like me, if the online (classes) thing doesn’t work out; well we just don’t know how that is going to work,” said Mvula, whose home country is Zambia in Eastern Africa and who is the reigning Mr. LOC.

“How it is going to work” involves two concerns, he said. First, will all classes the students need to finish graduation requirements be available online and, if the semester is cut short, will seniors still get credit for unfinished course work.

“It’s about the finishing the course work and not about marching. In other words, getting the diploma so we won’t have to go back for another semester. I can come back (next year), but others can’t,” saidMvula, who plans to attend grad school.

LOC only holds one commencement ceremony a year.

Mvula added, “I would be disappointed if I couldn’t walk (across the stage to receive his diploma), but I understand why it might not happen.”

The New Tri-State Defender reached out to the Shelby County Schools and the municipal school districts and the city’s other institutions of higher learning to see what their plans are.

The municipal districts are on extended spring break, along the Shelby County Schools. Many of the districts’ offices are closed.

Here is what some are saying, however, by the TSD’s press time Wednesday.

  • Millington Municipal Schools: Matthew Bowser, IT and communications supervisor, said, “Millington Municipal Schools takes the safety of our students, staff and community very seriously. At this time, there are no plans to cancel the 2020 Graduation ceremonies. We are currently working with our stakeholders to develop a plan of action if the current trying time persists past the advised eight weeks.”
  • Germantown Municipal School District: A spokesperson said the system had “nothing to report at this time.”
  • University of Memphis: The university’s website said, “At this time, we are exploring the option of postponing graduation (set for May 9), as we recognize how important this event is for our students and family members. We will update you as more information becomes available in the coming weeks, and we can more accurately project possible dates.”
  • Rhodes College: President Marjorie Hass, in a letter to graduating seniors and their families, said, At this point, Commencement has not been cancelled. We are delaying any decision in hopes the situation will improve by semester’s end. If we can find a safe way to host Commencement on campus, we will absolutely do so.”
  • Christian Brothers University: In a letter to “the CBU family,” President Jack Shannon, said, “… many of our graduating students and their families are starting to make plans for Commencement, scheduled for May 9. At this time, we are still planning to hold our ceremony as scheduled. Should we feel at a later date that it is in everyone’s best interest to cancel or reschedule, we will promptly inform our graduating students and their families.”


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