Postponed and Circumstance: Sheffield students denied formal graduation for the second year running

Written by Taylor Ogle

There will be little pomp and circumstance for final year students at the University of Sheffield, where summer graduation has been postponed for the second year in a row. 

Many of the hallmarks of university life have been a distant dream for students since the onset of the pandemic, but now the culminating moment of robed recognition has been stripped away as well. Graduating students from the classes of 2020 and 2021 were notified on 21 April that the University would be unable to hold physical ceremonies as hoped this year.

A statement from the Events Team acknowledged the difficult circumstances: “We want nothing more than to celebrate with you at an in-person ceremony, but these events involve thousands of people travelling to Sheffield from all over the UK and the world, and require many months of planning, meaning we need to take this decision now.” 

Students due to graduate in July 2021 took to social media to express their frustration. 

Final year BA Hispanic Studies student, Annalucia Sodo, shared in her disappointment and frustration over the postponement of a ceremony she had “always dreamed of”. 

“Without a doubt, having a physical ceremony would have been a great reward for me,” the Italian student said. 

Ms Sodo understood the University’s decision, but said that more attention should have been paid to students earlier: “The University could have made more effort to organise a ceremony at least in the summer, maybe in small social distanced groups as it seems that the lockdown is easing and the vaccine campaign is progressing well.”

Despite the government’s promise that all lockdown measures would be behind us by 21 June, the University of Sheffield joins dozens of other institutions that have made the tough call to cancel their ceremonies. 

Durham, Newcastle, Manchester, and Edinburgh are just a few of the universities that will face student frustration over cancelled or postponed ceremonies. 

The University of Sheffield’s Students’ Union

The University of Sheffield’s Student Union issued a statement from President Beth Eyre and Activities Officer Jordan Weir expressing their condolences to students who have lost their second chance at a graduation: “We understand your frustration and know that the Forgotten Students of this pandemic deserve recognition for their resilience and achievements throughout the last year and a half.”

Students from the class of 2020 are still waiting for their own ceremonies as the list of students anticipating their moment on the stage continues to grow

Brandon O’Connell was due to graduate with his Master’s of Engineering last July at the University of Sheffield. 

After a “long hard slog” through a five year aerospace engineering programme, Mr O’Connell was looking forward to a day to celebrate his achievements: “As much as it is pompous nonsense at the end, I’m 60-odd grand in debt for that pompous nonsense.”

Missed coming-of-age moments and forgotten occasions have been a hallmark of the pandemic. The government offered little in way of guidance or support for the millions of university students scattered across the country, each navigating online lectures, quarantine, and desperately hoping for a ‘normal’ graduation.

Image Credit: Brandon O’Connell

The engineer noted the frustration he felt at the lack of support: “Across the board, there should have been more of an effort to think about students. I just think it’s a huge proportion of the young population that just got forgotten about in every way. The whole process, it feels like students have been missed off. “

Now with graduations being pushed back a second time, the current PhD student is resigned to holding on a bit longer in order to celebrate with the people that matter most.

“Often when you ask what was the best bit about graduation, people don’t say it was the three-hour long ceremony I had to sit through and the handshake, or the fear of people saying my name wrong when I got called up on stage. It’s being around the people that you celebrated with, or your family,” the graduate said.

After grappling with initial disappointment, Mr O’Connell had to come to terms with the fact that the much-anticipated celebrations would look very different to what he imagined. 

The native Sheffielder made the best of last summer’s looser restrictions to celebrate with his family while he waited on a formal university ceremony. He also took advantage of a voucher scheme for gown rental and an empty campus to take plenty of graduation pictures before enjoying a small family barbecue. 

Celebrating with family and not waiting for an official ceremony was a priority to ensure the people Mr O’Connell cared for most could be present: “I wanted to celebrate with my grandparents, which I managed to do during that summer where things were a little bit looser – and I thought, ‘I can’t wait a year or two years to graduate, or have some form of celebration in some way for it, because I can’t guarantee they’ll be there.’”

The graduate’s grandfather was a former professor at the University of Sheffield and brought along his own graduation regalia so the pair could take some one-of-a-kind family photos.

 

Image Credit: Brandon O’Connell. The graduate and his grandfather shared a special moment at a family barbecue-turned-graduation event.

 

The University of Sheffield has assured students that they remain “fully committed” to giving them a ceremony as soon as they can, but for graduates like Mr O’Connell it will just be the icing on top of the cake when it can finally go ahead.

For this class of 2020 graduate, university is about so much more than just one day: “I have put my degree certificate on the wall because it’s a polite reminder that that’s why I did it, and I know everyone wants the pompous hat wearing and the hat throwing graduation ceremony, but at the end of the day, that’s why I did it.” 

Written by Taylor Ogle

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