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What’s Happening with the 2021 Graduation Ceremony?

By Nour Abu-Ismail, Korean Studies and Development Studies

Despite the changing nature of lockdown in Britain, many universities have been quick to announce that 2021 graduation ceremonies will not be in person. On 27 January, Boris Johnson announced a four-step plan to ease lockdown measures in England. The prime minister described the plan as a ‘one-way road to freedom’ with all limits on social contact removed by 21 June. 

University College London (UCL) was the first to declare a virtual ceremony in an email sent out to students confirming that the university ‘would not hold any in-person ceremonies until 2022.’ Following UCL, King’s College London announced plans of postponing in-person graduation until 2022. 

SOAS has yet to decide on whether virtual or in-person graduation will be taking place this summer. In a General SOAS Announcement on 9 March the school affirmed that ‘We hope that after 21 June – according to the Government roadmap guidelines – there may be a greater possibility to offer some in-person celebrations, alongside remote access for students who were not in London.  We are currently working through the options for what we may be able to deliver so that we are ready to communicate with you once the Government guidelines are clarified.’

The Spirit contacted Hasan Zakria, co-president of Activities & Events, who said students would have access to more information after a Graduation Steering Group Meeting. The purpose of the meeting is to assess student body suggestions for the 2021 graduation ceremony. These suggestions range from gift hampers of university merchandise to a graduate yearbook. 

Prior to the 9 March email the only communication with students had been an email from the Students’ Union on 5 February. In an interview with the Spirit, Sophie Ward, a third-year Development Studies student, was disappointed with the lack of communication after receiving the SU’s email; ‘graduation is supposed to be a commemorative thing. Considering that the government has laid out the lockdown roadmap, there should be communication on whether there is any intention of it happening. But there’s just been nothing.’

Like Ward, many students feel similar frustrations regarding the lack of information surrounding the graduation ceremony. The SOAS Spirit posted a poll on Instagram asking readers how they felt about attending online graduation. Over 200 students responded. 85% of people felt that there had been poor communication from SOAS. The polls revealed that 90% of respondents were unhappy to participate in online graduation and 95% voted to delay the graduation ceremony if it entailed the possibility of attending it in-person. 

Ashley Williams, BA English finalist, said she would prefer to attend postponed graduation to a virtual one as she ‘can’t think of one person who would be genuinely happy to go to an online graduation.’ When asked if she knew anyone who graduated from SOAS in 2020, Ashley commented that she knew a few people, but almost none of her friends attended the virtual celebration. 

 “The university hopes that ‘there may be a greater possibility to look at some form of an in-person graduation alongside online access.’”

The Spirit contacted SOAS, who said they are ‘fully committed to ensuring students can have the best possible celebration given the circumstances.’ The university hopes that ‘there may be a greater possibility to look at some form of an in-person graduation alongside online access.’ SOAS plans to keep students informed about plans in the coming weeks as they work through possible options. 

University students are among those hit the hardest by Covid-19. Physical access to campuses has been nearly impossible since the United Kingdom first went into lockdown in March of last year. The Covid-19 pandemic forced thousands of students, paying full fees, to attend courses entirely online. Many of those students also face mounting financial pressures of owing rent to residence halls that they have not been able to access. 

Photo caption: 2010 SOAS graduate being photographed with family and friends. (Credit: SOAS Newsroom)

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