SNHU Commencement 2019 (image courtesy: Sothern New Hampshire University)

SNHU has announced that the Commencement ceremonies for the classes of 2020 and 2021 have been scheduled to take place virtually Saturday, May 8. Joining the ranks of universities like Saint Anselm’s College and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, SNHU has decided to err on the side of caution and postpone in-person Commencement ceremonies. In an email sent out to both graduating classes, the SNHU Commencement Team notified students of the decision, saying, “All Southern New Hampshire University 2020 and Spring 2021 graduates will be recognized and celebrated in a virtual commencement ceremony on May 8. In-person celebrations have been postponed until we can safely gather all of our graduates and guests from around the world.”

Assistant Vice President of Ceremonies & Events Deanna Zanella elaborated on this decision further, saying, “We are absolutely committed to holding in-person ceremonies once it’s deemed safe to do so. Just one Commencement Weekend usually brings over 30,000 people to Manchester and we cannot safely do that just yet.”

However, this does not rule out a future in-person ceremony. Zanella states, “We hope to celebrate all of our postponed ceremonies in-person as early as later this year and are in the process of looking at multiple options. Remember our graduates not only live in New England but all over the United States as well as in other parts of the world.” Traditionally Commencement has fallen at the end of Senior Week, so many of the graduating seniors would already be in the area. The majority of graduates would have to travel and find accommodations, meaning SNHU has to take the Greater Manchester community into account as well.

This decision has been in the works for quite a while. Zanella says, “When it was clear that we would have to postpone our first Fall Commencement planned for the end of 2020, we surveyed our eligible Spring and Fall 2020 graduates and asked if they’d like to participate in a virtual ceremony while they await a rescheduled in-person ceremony. Overwhelmingly, they said yes. They also offered suggestions for what aspects of a virtual ceremony would be meaningful to them (the most important was having their name read and including a photo on screen). So, we began to research options and examples of virtual ceremonies that other universities have held this last year and came up with a plan.”

This experience seeks to improve Commencement for years to come. In prior years many students were unable to attend the Commencement celebrations in person, so this year can help find solutions for future students to be able to attend their ceremonies. Zanella explains, “Each year we hear from a number of graduates that can’t attend in-person ceremonies due to military or work commitments, financial or family obligations, or health concerns. We hope the ceremonies this Spring will help us learn the best way to offer an additional virtual option for graduates in the future and will welcome feedback from this year to help shape that experience going forward.” 

In response to the decision, members of the SNHU community have taken to social media to express their complaints. Some students felt that SNHU had not communicated properly throughout the entire decision-making process. A petition has been created by Richard Pulisciano, ’21, urging Paul LeBlanc and the SNHU administration to reconsider holding an in-person ceremony.

“We are upset with the fact we can’t have a real graduation as most colleges are doing it now. Graduation is [memorable] and something that other colleges are giving the students, [including] surveys and the option to have a graduation or not. We the students of SNHU are outraged. We didn’t have any inputs,” writes Pulisciano. In addition, there are concerns that holding graduation at a later date will create conflict for those that have new obligations.

Although some have shown their outrage over the postponement, graduates such as Christina Ryan, ‘20, have turned another leaf. “[It’s] been basically a year since I ended my time at SNHU, I’ve kind of gotten over the whole situation,” says Ryan.

Supporters of an in-person Commencement continue to sign the petition in hopes for the classes 2020 and 2021 getting the in-person ceremony they worked toward. The hashtag #LetSNHUWalk has also begun to circulate to express unity.

In that hashtag, some students express confusion as to why SNHU has chosen to postpone in-person ceremonies while other universities have held similar events with successful safety measures.

Every year, seniors are asked to pay a graduation fee of $150. However, students from the classes of 2020 and 2021 are questioning why they are being asked to fulfill this requirement. SNHU clarifies what this fee goes towards, saying, “The fee covers not only your regalia and diploma but the degree conferral process, including the final degree audit, processing and mailing of the diploma and your official transcript.”

The SNHU Student Government Association (SGA) has recently sent out a memo encouraging students to send their questions and concerns to them. SGA will compile and submit these comments to the University Administration. In addition, students who are looking for more information regarding the 2021 Commencement celebrations can go to https://www.snhu.edu/student-experience/graduation.

Stefan Karlberg
Stefan Karlberg is a Communications major and Video Production minor going into his Junior year at SNHU. He has been writing for The Penmen Press since his first semester and has had the opportunity to interview people like President Paul LeBlanc, Olympian Aly Raisman, and rapper Ice-T. Alongside journalism, he is very passionate about music, photography, and travel.