WT to hold virtual graduation in December

By Chip Chandler

After weeks of careful consideration, West Texas A&M University officials today announced that its December 2020 graduation ceremonies will be held online.

“We realize that many students and their families still long for the traditional graduation ceremony. We do, too,” said University President Dr. Walter Wendler. “But with COVID-19 cases still skyrocketing, we cannot, in good conscious, host an in-person ceremony.”

The decision comes following several candid discussions between University administrators, as well as with community leaders and health experts.

“We understand the importance of in-person graduation, and we have tentative plans for small-scale, outdoor ceremonies for the 2020 and 2021 graduates across multiple Fridays in March, April, and May,” said Dr. Neil Terry, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “We are working on several options for students and their families that will provide an opportunity for graduates to engage key elements of an in-person ceremony, including calling names and walking across a stage.”

Students who graduated in 2020 (whether May, summer or December) may elect to attend the Spring 2021 commencement ceremonies. Additional details will be released soon.

WT officials weighed other options, including hosting a series of ceremonies inside the First United Bank Center with a limited number of guests, or hosting one ceremony outside in Buffalo Stadium.

“We have been wrestling mightily with this,” Wendler said. “But we have to balance the very real possibility of widespread infections with the desire to gather together as Buffs to celebrate the December class of 2020.”

Faculty and student representatives support the decision.

“We know that we would risk hosting a super-spreader event should we have any kind of in-person commencement, and that’s not a risk worth taking in the middle of a pandemic,” said Jeffry Babb, Faculty Senate president. “Our virtual commencement ceremony in May was quite successful and celebrated our students and their accomplishments as best as possible in these circumstances. The faculty appreciates the administration’s careful consideration in this matter.”

“I know many of my fellow students were hoping for an in-person option,” said Seth Rodriguez, student body president, “but I hope we all understand that we have to look at the bigger picture and keep our loved ones and our community safe during these difficult times.”