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Monday, June 1, 2020

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Postponed commencement a disappointment to first-generation students, their families


Despite the changes the coronavirus has brought to commencement, first-generation student advocacy programs like the Challenger Program are still looking for a way to celebrate first-generation students' graduation. | Jiselle Santos/The Cougar

Despite the changes the coronavirus has brought to commencement, first-generation student advocacy programs like the Challenger Program are still looking for a way to celebrate first-generation students’ graduation. | Jiselle Santos/The Cougar

As the University’s commencement ceremonies are postponed for Spring 2020 graduates due to the coronavirus pandemic, first-generation students and their families are disillusioned that they won’t get the celebration they envisioned.

While some first-generation students said they see the ceremony as merely a formality, others said they, and their families, have been looking forward to the commencement ceremony for years.

“I’m upset at the fact that I won’t be able to walk across the stage in May, especially since my mom passed away from cancer on Christmas Day (last year),” said history senior Cody Bunker. “She was my biggest inspiration to get my degree.”

Bunker said both of his parents were looking forward to seeing him walk across the stage and is one of many first-generation families grappling with this new reality. Some students said they understand postponing graduation helps flatten the curve of new COVID-19 cases, yet they’re mourning the important moment that they had imagined for years.

“My dad is torn that I’m not able to walk across the stage in May,” Bunker said. “He’s still mourning the loss of my mom, and he’s been super excited for me to graduate and walk across that stage. The coronavirus is affecting everything, throwing a wrench into all of our future plans and our daily lives.”

Though some first-generation graduates and their families look at the commencement ceremony as a momentous occasion, other first-generation graduates see commencement as merely a symbolic event and are more focused on wrapping up their degree, like computer science senior Sihaa Pannu.

Pannu had to break the news to her family that she would have to graduate a semester late due to the ongoing situation. Fortunately, her family was supportive and understanding when considering the circumstances, Pannu said.

“Graduation is more like a ceremony to me,” Pannu said. “I am more concerned with getting the classes that I need and finishing on time.”

The Challenger Program, a first-generation student advocacy organization run by UH, had to cancel their graduation banquet for the first time in 30 years.

“I held out as long as I could because I know how important this event is for the students,” said Student Success Advocate for the Challenger Program Monica Floyd.

Taking courses remotely for the rest of the semester has added other challenges for first-generation students. Many graduating students in the Challenger Program have to deal with the increased stress of a more loud, unstable or chaotic environment at home, Floyd said.

“For (students) to find quiet space to study and not be interrupted has been the main issue,” Floyd said. “It’s been a challenge adjusting to a home environment and not having a place to separate home life from school life.”

Despite the changes the coronavirus has brought to commencement and classes for students, the Challenger Program is still looking for a way to celebrate first-generation students’ graduation.

“For a lot of students, graduation is the ultimate price of what they’ve been working towards,” Floyd said. “It’s not just an accomplishment for them — it’s an accomplishment the whole family feels.”

For more of The Cougar’s coronavirus coverage, click here.

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