For both high school and college students alike, graduation or commencement is something to look forward to, usually for years on end. It is the turning of a page, the end of one season in life, and the beginning of a new one. But for the graduates of 2020, that page may have to turn without the usual fanfare or even recognition.
Because of the current social distancing guidelines and nationwide school closures, many graduation ceremonies are being postponed until a later, and much safer date. However, some schools have found a way to at least acknowledge the hard work of these students by giving them a virtual online ceremony.
St. Olaf College in Minnesota is one of those, offering students a small bit of satisfaction and credit – that is just so long as you are not a straight, white American.
In a recent email from the school’s Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion, “Self-identified domestic students of color, international students, and LGBTQIA+ students” will be allowed to participate in three separate virtual ceremonies, depending on the group they identify most with.
However, for those who identify as anything other than these three groups, graduation will be held a later and undisclosed date in 2021.
The liberal arts school’s website and commencement weekend 2020 page says, “Due to the impacts of COVID-19, St. Olaf College’s 2020 Commencement festivities have been postponed and will be rescheduled for a date in late May/early June of 2021.” And then, it adds that the site will be updated when new and more specific information can be given.
Campus Reform, a college news outlet, reported that none of the graduating seniors they have spoken to have been given even the slightest indication that they will be honored if they are not of a minority group. When the school itself was contacted about the would-be ceremony for the general population, it said that staff was “exploring a number of ways to celebrate the Class of 2020,” but nothing had been “finalized.”
And since it is already the end of April, with regular graduation dates just weeks, if not days away, I think it’s safe to say that nothing will be offered for the non-minority student population until next year.
So while the school itself is not going to do anything for its graduating students, the Taylor Center is willing to organize not one, but three separate virtual commencement ceremonies. But in true liberal fashion, those festivities are only for those who are “underrepresented.”
The Taylor Center, according to its website, is a place where staff members “walk with you and celebrate your ‘awesomeness factor.’ The page goes on to describe how they are a “place where we critically define progress and discuss change through a lens of impact to those who are underrepresented. We understand that diversity impacts us all differently, and for an area where we are marginalized there is another that we hold privilege.”
According to the site, no “race, gender, phenotype, language, immigration, sexual orientation, or religion is discriminated against because “our responsibility and commitment is to work with one and all aspects that are part of the identities of students.”
So why is it that white, American, and straight students are not being included in the festivities, especially for something like graduation?
After all, graduation is about merit, earning the right to walk across that stage, receive your diploma, and move on to the American workforce proudly with a degree. It has nothing to do with your physical attributes, the beliefs you hold dear, or even what you seem to ‘identify’ as.
And yet the Taylor Center, which has the words ‘equity’ and ‘inclusion’ in its very name, seems only to base the rewards of a long four years, or more depending on your determination, on just that. So much for equality.
It would seem that the center should either change their principles or their name. Because, for an entity that considers inclusion its top priority, it’s doing a shoddy job of proving anything more than identity politics is the name of the game.