UWL decides to postpone Spring 2020 commencement to a later date


Photo by Carly Rundle-Borchert

Winter 2019 commencement.

Sam Stroozas, Executive Editor

At 5:34 p.m. on Thursday, March 19, Chancellor Joe Gow sent an email to students and faculty at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse about the Spring 2020 commencement ceremony.

“As we continue to address COVID-19, I know many have wondered about the status of our spring commencement.

I know firsthand, literally, the importance of celebrating our graduates and their many accomplishments. One of the greatest privileges of my chancellor role is being able to personally congratulate each of our University’s graduates as they walk across the stage at our ceremonies. However, in light of current restrictions on bringing groups of people together, we and the other UW System universities have no choice but to postpone our May gatherings. This certainly will be disappointing to our graduates, their classmates and their families, but I want to assure you we will do everything we can to have an in-person celebration on our campus at a later date.

Please keep in mind that this does not affect whether students graduate – the timing of our celebration is the only thing that’s changing. Official diplomas will be sent to those meeting degree requirements by mid-summer, just as they have in previous years.

There’s understandable disappointment and sadness that our beautiful campus will remain quiet this spring. And in May, we’ll miss the sight of joyful graduates taking pictures around campus in their caps and gowns. In particular, May 16th at the circle in front of Cartwright certainly won’t be the same without them.

Thank you for your continued understanding and support during these difficult times. Please continue to take care of yourself, practice social distancing and wash your hands regularly. We will get through this!

And for continuous updates about the impact of COVID-19 on UWL, please be sure to visit our COVID-19 website.”

Haley Olson, a senior at UWL created a petition online for students and family to sign in favor of postponement. The petition has garnered 1,891 signatures.

“I started this petition a few days ago when schools around the Midwest began canceling their commencement. I have friends at these universities and have seen how it affects them and how discouraging it can be,” said Olson. “Canceling in-person classes is a huge change for all students in general but also necessary with the COVID-19 cases continuing to increase. However, there are alternate solutions to consider before canceling graduation commencement completely.”

Olson got the idea for her petition after seeing students at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities do the same thing.

“I was really pushed to take action when I saw the success of the same petition for the University of Minnesota’s graduation commencement. They do not have a date chosen yet, but it is officially postponed rather than canceled now,” said Olson.

Olson explained that postponing graduation instead of canceling it allows for students who earned their degrees to be recognized, as well as their family members.

“I cannot say this enough: commencement is a milestone for so many-beyond just students but their parents, grandparents, siblings, etc,” Olson said. “All of us who are graduating have worked incredibly hard and put so much time into our degrees with the final moment of walking across the stage in cap and gown in mind.

Merissa Larson, a senior at UWL who signed the petition, shared her thoughts as well, prior to Gow’s announcement today.

UWL students understand that UWL admin is considering canceling our commencement ceremony to protect their faculty, students and student family’s health from COVID-19,” said Larson. “We thank you for taking our health into consideration but would still like to experience graduation from UWL. We don’t want to lose this experience, so we are open to alternative options.  

Jackson Martinez, also a senior at UWL signed the petition and said he did so because he always wanted to feel like he could walk across the stage at the La Crosse Center and say, “I did it.”

“I think back to those nights and how hard I worked, that I don’t want to accept anything but the traditional ‘I graduated from college’ experience,” said Martinez. “While I obviously understand that the times we are going through are extremely trying on many of us, I can’t stand the thought of looking back at my college career and there not be the memory of me shaking hands with Joe Gow and accepting my diploma.”

The Racquet Press contacted Gow for a comment about the petition earlier today before his announcement. It is not known if the petition had any influence over this decision.

He said, “As I hope everyone knows, at our commencement ceremonies I consider myself singularly privileged to be the person who individually congratulates all our graduates. So, I, too, hope we can find a way to maintain that essential tradition this year.”

For other updates about UWL and COVID-19, please follow this link: https://www.uwlax.edu/info/covid-19/

The Racquet Press will be updating the UWL community as this story continues.