By: Meghan Hudson, Editor-in-Chief
Photos by Meghan Hudson/ The Towerlight
After a postponement of one year, 2020 graduates returned to Towson University to attend in-person commencement ceremonies alongside the class of 2021. For the first time since 2005, graduates walked the stage outdoors at Johnny Unitas Stadium.
Last year, 2020 commencements were suspended and rescheduled for October. Due to an announcement by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan that the capacity cap for outdoor events would be 250 people, the University had no choice but to once again suspend commencement ceremonies.
With no indications as to how the state of the pandemic would proceed, officials began weighing their option of hosting an online ceremony.
“Class of 2020, in the coming days we will be reaching out to each of you individually via email to ask if your preference is to have an in-person on-campus commencement when state and local guidelines allow it or, instead, would you prefer we hold a virtual commencement to celebrate you, the Class of 2020,” the University emailed graduates Sept 9.
Results of this poll led to the decision to hold out for an in-person gathering.
“Based on the overwhelming results from surveying these graduates, TU will be moving forward with plans for commencement in Spring 2021 for 2020 graduates,” said Provost Melanie Perreault.
President Kim Schatzel expressed her commitment to ensuring the class of 2020 is celebrated.
“We’re going to make that happen,” Schatzel said. “We are not going to do virtual commencement. We are going to bring you back to campus.”
With COVID-19 regulations and attendee comfortability in mind, the Commencement committee, COVID-19 Response Leadership team, TU Medical Advisory Committee and the Baltimore County Department of Health decided on Johnny Unitas Stadium as this year’s commencement venue. Being open-air with enough space to distance graduates and families, the stadium served as a safer alternative to the University’s typical venue, SECU arena.
Graduates were spaced six feet apart on the field, while guests were placed in stadium seating.
In addition, the commencements were live streamed for graduates and family members who could not be there in-person.
Graduates were also limited the number of tickets they were given, from a usual six tickets to four. The University also reduced the stage party size to increase physical distancing and decrease density of participants.
After the events of this past year, graduates expressed how reaching graduation holds a newfound meaning.
“This graduation means everything to me,” 2021 graduate Kathleen Hohweiler said. “Having the opportunity to be together with my family, friends, advisors and professors for the first time in over a year makes me feel on top of the world.”
Hohweiler added that she has been inspired by the accomplishments and sacrifices made by classmates.
“I had no idea just how many TU students were working as nurses during the pandemic, teaching in Baltimore schools during online learning or working as essential workers,” she said. “With some normalcy just on the horizon, it feels like the perfect time to really celebrate the outstanding students in this class.”
2021 graduate Brooke Foundas was thankful to have her family supporting her in-person.
“It’s important to find a way to allow college graduates to have a ceremony due to the amount of hard work we put in these past four years or so,” Foundas said. “I much rather have an in-person graduation over a virtual one because it gives me the chance to see everyone I’ve met through my major one last time, and it makes it feel very real.”
Like many graduates of the past year, Foundas has struggled accepting this as the end of her college career.
“This past year has been extremely hard and throwing virtual school on top of it didn’t make it any easier,” she said. “My friends and I feel as if we lost almost a whole year together. We’ve been trying to make the most of it these past few months and cherishing every moment we have together because once we walk across that stage, we are all heading in different directions.”
Caroline Floyd, a 2020 graduate, is excited to have the opportunity to bookend her college experience.
“Finishing college in my bedroom back in December was so underwhelming,” Floyd said. “All of a sudden, this thing I’d been working toward for 15 years was just over and I had to be okay with that. I was so proud and overjoyed of course, but there was no closure.”
Floyd added that part of her excitement stems from the opportunity of getting to be a senior for one more day.
“We never got to scream and shout and cause a raucous, and I desperately wanted that,” she said. “Graduating today was such a monumental and impactful moment. After such a hard year we finally got to celebrate ourselves without having to think about all the other things going on in the world. It’s amazing to be a senior for one more day, even though tomorrow I’ll go back to being an adult.”