University grads will not be walking across the stage this year — at least not in person |

University grads will not be walking across the stage this year — at least not in person

High angle view of a packed house during undergraduate commencement at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Photo by Doug Chandler/Office of University Communication | University of Nebraska–Lincoln

“It is disappointing and upsetting that many of us college students have not been able to have appropriate closure of this chapter in our life. My friends and I who are graduating have all said it is just difficult, as these last eight weeks of our semester we were all planning on spending as much time with close friends as possible, before we go on our separate ways in life,” said Christian Calliham, a graduating senior at Kansas State University in Manhattan.

The K-State spring commencement ceremonies have been postponed to keep everyone safe and healthy due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead, the traditional spring 2020 graduation ceremony will be combined with the December 2020 ceremonies which are scheduled for Dec. 11 and 12 on the K-State Polytechnic and Manhattan campuses.

“The students are disappointed because this is their crowning achievement after all these years but we’re working on how to make it special. We want to include them and include their name,” said Jeff Morris, vice president of communications and marketing for K-State. “Most universities our size don’t do that ­— we know many will have jobs, and can’t get back. A lot of the colleges at K-State will work on maybe doing it in a virtual format in a formal ceremony in December, and we’re still working on that.”

“For the 2020 graduates nothing, not even this virus, can take away the accomplishment of completing your academic journey and receiving your degree. Even without a traditional commencement ceremony in May, all of our graduates and their families should take a great deal of pride in completing their degree, particularly under these trying circumstances.”

Regarding how they can join up with the graduating class in December.

“They’ll work with the Registrar’s office, and they’ll know who will attend, when they apply for graduation. The December commencement is usually much smaller than the spring commencement,” Morris said. K-State will publish a commencement website closer to the time. K-State officials said that the commencement exercises at the university are known for being memorable.

Calliham agreed, his college years have been personally and professionally special, and despite COVID-19 closing down the university before the semester ended, Calliham is intent on maintaining his schoolwork and his college friendships.

“We have all still been keeping in contact through video calls and texts,” Calliham said. Also recently, Calliham had just spent months collaborating with friends, organizing a first-ever major prospect cattle show and cattle drive for Manhattan’s Downtown Aggieville for mid-April, that is, until it was cancelled almost as quickly as it was announced, in late March. They had lined-up exhibitors from South Dakota and Colorado. “I then fully realized that I was going to have a big turnout,” said Calliham, founder and livestock coordinator of the planned Aggieville Showdown.

“It was definitely disappointing, but it was out of our control. Staying positive with everything. I’ve been planning it since Christmas, so if there’s anything on the bright side — if I’m able to do this next year — my board, my friends and I have ideas to get Aggieville even more involved then,” he said. While Calliham is graduating this May, he’s already noticed most of the students have moved back home for the remainder of the semester.

University OF NEBRASKA

Meanwhile, at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, a different method of graduation will be held this spring a virtual online graduation ceremony.

“We are planning an online ceremony May 9, where students will have their degrees officially and legally conferred and a place where they can celebrate this milestone, at least virtually. More details will be forthcoming on those events. UNL understands how disappointing it is to have completed your degree and not be able to go through the important milestone of a commencement ceremony,” said Leslie B. Reed, director of public affairs in UNL’s Office of University Communication. “It’s one of many hard realizations each of us is facing during this incredibly challenging time.”

“We have taken several steps to alleviate the disappointment. Our May 2020 graduates are invited to come back to campus to wear their cap and gown and walk across the stage with classmates to be recognized at commencement ceremonies in August, December or May of the coming academic year,” Reed said. UNL is offering to hold a place in future commencement ceremonies even for those who may not be able to return this coming academic year because of military deployments or other life circumstances. “We want our graduates to have that in-person celebration,” Reed said.

Also, as new students prepare to begin their college and university experiences, preparations will look a little different at the beginning. With the key concern keeping everyone safe, decisions are almost universal to cancel in-person visits at both UNL and K-State, and likely all, if not most, other schools.

“We have cancelled in-person visits for the foreseeable future, and will be making accommodations for those already registered to connect with us virtually. Currently, we are asking all students and families to connect with us remotely through one of our online information sessions or by requesting a 1-to-1 appointment at Also, new student enrollment is being revamped so that it will be handled entirely remotely,” Reed said.

K-State has moved to virtual visits, but Morris notes that hasn’t stopped recruitment efforts.

That allows the university to recruit new students very aggressively.

“One thing we’ve done is moved everything to virtual visits and we have a lot more resources online than before — we have more zoom sessions. We also have had a tremendous outpouring of support from our K-State family,” Morris said.

They are also making an effort to retain as many current students and to make sure they have emergency funding available for bandwidth or financial for current and future students.

With a positive spirit, K-State expects they’ll be operational by mid-August, in time for the fall semester.

“They track it very well, but they’re predicting that the peak of COVID-19 (in Manhattan, Kan.) to occur by late April and last into early June in our market, based on our testing,” Morris said. “So, if it follows, that pushes us to be past the peak in early June, and we’re fairly optimistic we’ll be open in the fall.”

Also, in the next two weeks, K-State will make decisions about summer classes, which would start in May, right after commencement.

Acknowledging difficult emotions, Reed said, “For the 2020 graduates nothing, not even this virus, can take away the accomplishment of completing your academic journey and receiving your degree. Even without a traditional commencement ceremony in May, all of our graduates and their families should take a great deal of pride in completing their degree, particularly under these trying circumstances.”

Reed said the May 2020 graduates are invited to participate and will be recognized during any future UNL commencement ceremony they choose to attend. “UNL has commencement ceremonies each year in May, August and December,” Reed said. Members of the May 2020 class will have a special area to allow them to sit with members of their graduating class during future ceremonies.”

Everyone agrees, it’s been a tough go.

“Overall, it has really been very impactful, because it has affected every part of our operation classrooms, student housing, the student experience, how we teach, how we conduct research, there will be a severe financial impact, and we know there will be because we’re bringing in 20,000 people but we don’t now have 20,000 people so it’s been historical,” Morris said. “But the K-State staff never complained, and have a lot of resiliency.”

There’s always the decision to graduate to positive thought, leaving behind as many negative impulses, as possible.

“Hoping to make plans for the future of being able to spend some time after we graduate in May by coming back for football games or going to see each other in our new towns we’ll be living in,” Calliham.

For more information:

Kansas State University:

For a Virtual K-State Visit:

UNL: ❖

— Hadachek is a freelance writer who lives on a farm with her husband in north central Kansas and is also a meteorologist and storm chaser. She can be reached at


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