The Class of COVID: Reacting to Cardiff University’s Graduation Plans

An opinion piece by Niladri Singh Rajput

Cardiff University recently announced plans for a three day graduation ceremony, taking place at the Principality Stadium in July, for the cohort of 2019-2021. This news, alongside a video teaser of the ceremony on Cardiff University’s Instagram page, initially got me buzzing and nervous in an excited kind of way. It honestly did feel like the graduation ceremony was going to culminate into the glorious day that most of us had envisioned, and waited so long for. We imagined a ceremony that would commemorate all the time, money and energy that we had invested into finally walking across that stage as we received our degrees. However, when students received news about how the graduation ceremony would be conducted, things started to get a little bit convoluted.

The past year has been difficult on each of us. Our lives changed overnight, people learned to conduct their lives and businesses in a way they hadn’t known before, and the world around us went up in flames. Yet, as students, we continued with our studies, our classes, assignments and part-time jobs. Even as all of our lectures were shifted online, sometimes with videos from the previous year, and we didn’t physically meet most of our course-mates outside of Zoom meeting rooms, we continued. So, when we are finally successful in achieving what we set out to do – getting that degree – and in a time where covid restrictions are a thing of the recent past in Wales, it is only natural that we expect the celebration that pop-culture has religiously instructed us with. I, for one, expect to wear that gown, that tassel, and walk across the stage towards my beloved degree, no matter how good or bad it may be. 

The graduation ceremony planned by Cardiff University, however, included ‘entire year groups reunited for a single ceremony’ which meant that graduates would not cross the stage, but ‘stand and celebrate as a School from their place on the pitch’. In what world did the university think this would this sit well with graduates? Especially when we know and are surrounded by universities that are going the extra mile for their students, conducting multiple ceremonies over weeks, just so that they can have the graduation they deserve. The displeasure of students from Cardiff University was understandable, it was only fair. 

As the news spread like hot molten lava like from an eruption, Molly Govus, a 21-year-old English Literature student began a petition to give ‘Cardiff graduates the graduation they deserve’. As the petition gained momentum, it also began to attract the attention of news outlets such as The BBC, Wales Online, The Tab etc. Currently, the petition has five thousand one hundred signatures, and it is only increasing by the day. With petitions filed, national news coverage, email templates made for displeased students to share with the university, comments from alumni members and more than an average amount of back-and-forth communication with the university, the students of Cardiff have finally made themselves heard.  

The University recently sent out a message that said ‘there will be an opportunity for all graduates to be personally recognised’ but not without surprises because these too will only happen at each School recognition event. It is estimated that 13,500 students and 51,000 guests will be joining the ceremony through the course of the Graduation week. So, it would be logistically difficult to fit in all of those graduate names and offer each one a moment of one’s own, especially within the stipulated time. However, in its own way, this is a win. 

Now, as the noise has subsided and things have begun to get clearer, I find myself feeling increasingly anxious. Throughout this past year and our varied experiences, we have all faced losses and joys of our own, feeling a mirage of emotions as we learned new ways to live and to learn. This makes me feel connected to my fellow graduates in a way, reminding me that at the end of the day we are all living inside a giant ball that is swinging at a speed of 1000 miles an hour in a space so vast and boundless we can’t fathom. 

A graduate, upset because her name won’t be called out in her graduation ceremony may not seem like the most important thing in the world right now. But, acknowledging the displeasure and working towards creating a reality in which everyone feels involved and appreciated is what made this graduation ceremony possible. I can’t help but think of the possibilities students have as a united front, not as people from a specific country, with a specific language or a specific culture, but just as people acting in unison and getting what they want. I think the entire graduation ceremony saga has left me feeling quite victorious and more hopeful. In a world where we share the sky but vastly different realities, I think it is important to be hopeful, it is necessary. 

I love how, even towards the very end – and up to the point of graduating and receiving my degree – Cardiff University has taught me so much. No matter how great the establishment, and no matter how civil the people, there will still inevitably be issues along the way. It is about how these issues are handled, and what one does about them, that tells the real story. This right here is a good story. I dare say that, in the end, it is a happily ever after. 

Image from Unsplash