Schools across the nation have canceled commencement ceremonies because of the coronavirus pandemic. As of March 13, the university has not made a plan for its commencement ceremonies, currently planned for May 14-16. However, university sponsored events expecting 50 or more people are canceled, and guidelines will not be reevaluated until April 30.
“The team is diligently working on a plan for commencement as the situation with the coronavirus continues to evolve.” Bethanie DeFatta, assistant to the provost, said.
Senior public relations major Sierra Wood said her big family was excited to visit the campus to see her walk across the stage. She said her parents, who do not have Bachelor’s degrees, were especially excited.
“Graduating from college is a big milestone in my life, and I will be so disappointed if I can’t officially share that with them,” Woods said.
On March 12, President Rodney Bennett alerted the Southern Miss community that classes will be online only after a two-week-long Spring Break. For many seniors, Thursday was possibly their last day of face-to-face classes.
MaryClaire Rodrigue, senior legal studies major, was on her way home in Louisiana when she got the news.
“I had my last class on a college campus yesterday morning and didn’t even realize it at the time,” Rodrigue said. “It was my senior capstone class with the people I’ve gone to school with for the past four years, and a professor who I’ve admired so greatly. . . In class we were talking about all the possibilities, but I honestly didn’t think our time would be cut short so soon. As a senior, it was devastating news realizing that there are so many lasts I will no longer be able to experience.”
Rodrigue said the hardest realization is the possibility of not celebrating her hard work by walking across the stage during the commencement ceremony. However, she said she also understands the university’s attempts at keeping the staff and students safe because of the pandemic.
“As much as I would love to have a graduation ceremony, I understand that bringing hundreds of people in varying degrees of age and health into one building may not be the best idea. However, I hope and pray that things will improve, and we will be able to have a graduation ceremony,” she said.
Woods is traveling to her home in Florida for the extended Spring Break. She said she plans to return to campus when classes resume so she can take advantage of student services like the library, housing and her meal plan. More than anything, though, Wood said she wants to spend time with her friends before her senior year ends.
“It’s odd because after spending four years here, I feel like I’m not getting a real goodbye or any closure,” she said.
The Mississippi State Department of Health announced three presumptive cases of coronavirus in the state, all in Forrest County, March 13. For announcements from the university on new policies related to the coronavirus, visit www.usm.edu/provost/coronavirus.php.