Ohio University is a hub of intellect and humanity nestled within Athens. The campus’ brick buildings and tree-lined streets have entertained students for more than two centuries. 

But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many college students are now separated from the town they love.

As graduating students reminisce about their college experiences, they also grapple with the reality that their time at OU is ending in a less-than-ideal way, finalized by a virtual commencement ceremony.

Lydia Cox, a senior studying marine biology, was drawn to OU’s campus and its academic programs. However, when deciding where to attend university, the strength of OU’s online curriculum was never a consideration of hers.

Now, finishing her senior year virtually, Cox is burnt out. Marine biology is a hands-on major, lending itself to in-person learning experiences, but this semester, Cox navigated her lab work online. 

“It was just really hard to do virtually because you can't really see anything or touch it,” Cox said.

Similarly, Chad Quanrud found himself trudging through his final semester of college. Quanrud, a senior studying applied mathematics and economics, felt that the online delivery of his classes made them “not as useful” as in-person classes he took in the past.

“I definitely do not see the semester as being worthwhile,” Quanrud said.

Victims of circumstance, both Cox and Quanrud almost feel relieved about their intended graduation this December.

“I'm glad, because I don't want to do another semester like this one,” Cox said. “But it's still kind of sad. Especially since our graduation’s going to be kind of non-existent.”

Because of the pandemic, OU shifted the 2020 Fall Commencement Ceremony to a virtual format. The university’s decision was made with guidance from the CDC and Gov. Mike DeWine.

The virtual ceremony will be hosted on Saturday, Dec 12. Graduates names will be read while a slide displays information about them during a livestream.

“We know that 2020 has presented many challenges and some opportunities for so many of us,” Liz Pahl, associate director of event management at OU, said in an email. “Our greatest hope is that graduates of OU understand that the inability to be in the same room does not diminish their incredible accomplishments.”

Many graduating seniors did not imagine the end of their college careers looking like this; traditionally, the day is social and celebratory, as graduates revel in their final moments as OU students.

“I was kind of hoping to just get together with all (my friends) before, maybe take some photos if we wanted to,” Quanrud said. “Maybe go to Union Street Diner or something, basically have a whole day of it. Now, I feel like it's kind of just like I'm going to be attending a class—but it's not a class, it's my commencement.”

However, the unconventional ceremony is allowing students to forge their own traditions to celebrate graduating.

Quanrud is forgoing a cap and gown; instead he’s opting for a “goofy hat” to wear when they call his name. He sees some positives in the virtual format for the 2020 Fall Commencement Ceremony.

“Honestly, it might be more enjoyable to be doing it from the comfort of my home with my family,” Quanrud said.

After the virtual ceremony, students will be sent off into the “real world” as OU alumni.

Cox is pursuing graduate school options. Quanrud is looking for a job, specifically in the insurance industry. Both feel that OU has prepared them for their futures.

Although OU’s Fall 2020 Commencement Ceremony is virtual, it is still an opportunity for students to celebrate and reflect on the years they spent at OU.

“Even though it sucks and it feels like we got cheated out of one semester, we still had three years of great semesters and meeting good people,” Quanrud said. “You know, we have an entire lifetime to do everything else. Eventually, all this will hopefully end. So just focus on what matters now, and work through it.”