‘I just want to walk across a stage’: Class of 2020 to get in-person graduation at Viking Days

Seniors might have to wait a few extra months, but they’ll still get their cap and gown.

Registrar Joni Krueger said an in-person commencement ceremony for the class of 2020 will be held on Oct. 11, 2020 during Viking Days. The announcement was made during a virtual town hall hosted by administrators in conjunction with executive members of the Augustana Student Association (ASA).

The virtual town hall meeting was recorded on April 8 and released to students on April 14.

The announcement comes three weeks after President Stephanie Herseth Sandlin made the decision to move classes online for the remainder of the semester. In an email to the Augustana community, she said it was the university’s intention to “host a creative, virtual commencement ceremony in May to celebrate our graduates, followed this fall by special activities and recognition during Viking Days.”

There was no mention in the March 24 email, however, of plans to postpone the ceremony. This did not sit well with ASA senator and senior Hosea Kost. 

“When [Augustana] first made the initial announcement that it was going to be a virtual ceremony, I, among other seniors, was pretty upset about it,” Kost said.

Kost said he wanted answers as to why other South Dakota universities like South Dakota State University (SDSU) and the University of South Dakota (USD) decided to postpone their ceremonies right away, instead of canceling. 

Kost contacted ASA Vice President Audrey Cope with his concerns. Cope asked him for numbers of how many seniors would be willing to participate in a postponed commencement. Kost took to Instagram and asked seniors in a poll for their preferences. 

According to Kost, around 80% of students who responded said they would prefer an in-person ceremony. 

Along with Cope, Kost shared his concerns with his roommates and fellow ASA senators Logan Hattervig and Ryan Solberg. 

As ASA treasurer, Hattervig was involved in early conversations about postponing graduation. Hattervig said that administration had been working to plan an in-person commencement, even before Kost and other students lent their voices to the discussion.

“I’m not sure what the format would have looked like, but I think an event in the fall would have happened regardless of student input,” Hattervig said. “Joni Krueger and Colin Irvine have worked diligently alongside many other members of administration to ensure that some event take place to commemorate the graduation ceremony at some point.”

The ceremony is still in the planning process, according to registrar Joni Krueger. She said that it will take place in the Elmen Center after the traditional Viking Days chapel service.

Krueger said student comments, like ones from Kost, were taken to heart during the early conversations.

“We had conversations with the students about what they hoped the alternate commencement would look like and walked through a few scenarios with them,” Krueger said.

According to Kost, some of the scenarios included having graduates walk the football field during halftime of the Viking Days football game, incorporating graduates into the Viking Days parade or combining the ceremony with the class of 2021. 

“I just want to walk across a stage and shake hands because that has more sentimental value to me than walking across a football field or having a virtual ceremony,” Kost said. 

There will still be a virtual recognition on May 23 for graduates, as Krueger said it is important to recognize the accomplishments of the class of 2020 on what would have been the traditional commencement day.

“I think the virtual ceremony will be a nice touch to honor the day on which seniors anticipated graduation,” Hattervig said. “But, having an in-person graduation next Viking Days is something truly special and shows how committed Augustana is to their students.

Krueger encourages students to continue checking their email throughout the summer for more information. She said Augustana will be asking students to RSVP in late August for attendance.

“A lot of ‘lasts’ got cut short,” Kost said. “A lot of goodbyes [and] ‘see you laters’ never got to be said; a lot of hugs never got to happen. [The ceremony] means a lot, not only to seniors but to the Augustana community. It shows the resilience of our student body.”

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