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Letter to the editor: CU, you let us down

I once was a student mentor for Castleton University.

Whether it was doing tours for potential new students on accepted students’ day, or texting incoming students in the months leading up to their matriculation, I thoroughly enjoyed passing on my thoughts on why Castleton University was the right choice. I always told them the same thing.

It was the school I felt was most truly dedicated to the students.

I can’t say I feel that way anymore.

The news of a virtual graduation was stunning. I first thought of my grandmother and my parents, who eagerly waited to watch me walk across the stage. I remember months ago telling them by this summer, I couldn’t see why an in-person graduation wouldn’t be possible.

By then, vaccines would be rolling out heavily. By then, it would be summer, and the warm weather would make it even more likely.

By then, there’s no way Castleton wouldn’t have some sort of plan to put on a safe ceremony. I mean, they had a whole year to figure this out.

I assured them it would happen. I assured myself it would happen.

When the news of a virtual ceremony was announced, my heart sunk.

For the past four years, I worked my ass off for that moment. Looking at the clock at 2 a.m. as I finished a big assignment felt worth it when I thought about the moment I could hear my name be called. It’s a moment that meant so much more to me than just my own accomplishments.

Being a first-generation college student, I wanted to make sure my entire family heard our name called. I wouldn’t have made it here without them. Their love and support made it all possible.

But that doesn’t mean it would have been a bad ceremony if they weren’t able to be there in person.

It’s safe to say I really wasn’t consoled by the fact that my family and supporters may not have been in attendance. Rather, it would have been awesome to know that my entire family, even relatives in Colorado, and Rhode Island, and at home in Connecticut, would ALL be able to witness me walking across the stage in my cap and gown.

Even if I had to look into a camera that was live-streaming the ceremony while my parents and brother sat safely at home, it still would have been one of the greatest achievements in my life.

That honestly would have been better than seeing just my immediate family in the crowd. ESPECIALLY considering the circumstances.

I also don’t understand how a traditional in-person ceremony was not a viable option for 2021. Middlebury College can do it, but Castleton can’t? At Middlebury, even remote students could participate if they follow Vermont travel restrictions, which at this point in-time is very possible with no quarantine as long as travelers are tested within three days of arriving.

Not a viable option? I’d really like to know why, Castleton.

Is it because we have less funds in the budget? I sure hope not, because I truly believe graduating senior would take a simple and cheap ceremony to have their moment of walking across the stage. I fully believe the chunk of the $125 graduation fee each senior had to pay could easily cover it.

Is it because the commencement team wouldn’t have time to plan it out considering the uncertainty of the pandemic? I don’t know. I just feel like if Castleton really was as dedicated to the students as I always thought they were, they would have tried harder to make sure we at least got that moment.

None of the administration or faculty who made the decision to go virtual went through what we did. I’m sure they understand the hard work and determination it takes to graduate college. But they don’t know what it’s like to lose their senior year of college.

They don’t know what it’s like to find out their final year of college, the year that’s supposed to be the most memorable, will be spent four hours away from the campus you’ve fallen in love with.

They don’t know what it’s like to abruptly have to say goodbye to friends thinking you’d be back in April of last year, but then soon find out you wouldn’t be back at all.

They don’t know what it’s like to have to readjust to an entire new way of learning while also dealing with the usual stresses of college, and life, and oh, a pandemic.

They don’t know what it’s like to sit at home and see pictures and videos on social media of friends at other colleges in their caps and gowns, holding their degrees up after their in-person ceremony.

It all would have come full circle to share that moment with those friends who have become family. To hear your name and walk across a stage with a mask on and be able to look out over a crowd or a camera and reflect on everything that’s happened the past year would have been the most memorable and emotional moments of them all.

You took that away from us, Castleton.

Not because it wasn’t a viable option. Because you don’t truly care about us.

You took the easy way out. You let us all down.

Now, my moment will be spent in front of a screen, just like my final semesters were.