By LAUREN PEACOCK
For Montclair Local
This wasn’t a typical year for Sammie Panico, a graduating senior at Montclair State University majoring in linguistics. It wasn’t a typical year for anyone.
“Being able to take classes from your bed is definitely a plus, but finishing your bachelor’s degree from your bed is not the most exciting thing,” Panico said. “In the end, the fact that we had in-person graduation and got to walk across the stage made everything 10 times better.”
New Jersey’s ongoing loosening of coronavirus restrictions — there are now no limits on the sizes of gatherings, large or small — meant MSU could bring students together for graduation in a way it couldn’t for most of the pandemic.
But graduation still hasn’t been quite the normal experience. MSU is hosting 18 separate one-hour commencement events from June 7 to 12, split up by colleges at the university.
“The pandemic has been hard on everyone, including college graduates,” Andrew Mees, a spokesperson for the school, said. “From the moment Gov. [Phil] Murphy announced last year that in-person, outdoor gatherings would be permissible, we knew it would be something we would make happen for our students”
Students had said they didn’t want a virtual ceremony, Mees said, “so we developed a model that allowed us to hold in-person gatherings safely. We were one of the first and only schools in New Jersey to offer in-person ceremonies in 2020 and our students and their families were extremely happy that we were able to give them that moment. “
Students throughout the year saw a combination of remote and in-person classes, and some students attended classes online only. Those students who attended class in-person were kept six feet apart, had to wear masks and filled out COVID questionnaires before setting foot on campus — all on top of the usual stressful workload of college.
Dani Rosenfeld, a Randolph native and senior at MSU who will graduate this summer, says online schooling didn’t only affect her education — but her social life as well.
“The social aspect had to be the worst part, not being able to see people for such long periods of time is not something I was used to,” Rosenfeld said. “Before the virus hit it was so much easier to meet people in your classes being in person, and online having definitely made it harder to meet new people and connect.”
Mees said the split-up graduation model followed the same basic format as a larger ceremony. And he said it had some positives: “Each graduate student ceremony has a distinguished alumni speaker, which would not take place during one larger ceremony. The shorter ceremonies include the most important part — the moment when each student gets to walk across the stage and be individually recognized in front of their professors, classmates and families.”
About 5,200 graduates attending Montclair State University were expected to attend the various ceremonies.
The graduation ceremonies occurred the same week the school announced its ninth president, Jonathan G.S. Koppell, currently the dean of Arizona State University’s Watts College of Public Service and Community Solution. Among his first major tasks will be overseeing the return to mostly in-person classes. Students returning in the fall will be required to be vaccinated for coronavirus.
“So we will have a safe campus,” the university’s outgoing president, Susan A. Cole, said at an event to announce Koppell’s selection. “And one that looks the way it did in 2019.”