Illinois College Seniors Have Mixed Reactions to Commencement Plan

By Benjamin Cox on April 18, 2021 at 7:00am

Illinois College seniors are torn about their feelings about the hybrid commencement ceremony this year. The college announced a hybrid in-person reception of diplomas for students while family members attend virtually this year.

On Tuesday, May 11, at 1 p.m., the College is inviting graduating seniors to walk on stage and receive their diplomas during a Senior Celebration. The ceremony will be live-streamed from King Fieldhouse in Bruner Fitness and Recreation Center. A recording of the event will also be available for viewing.

Senior Emily Woods says she agrees with the administration’s decision to limit the event to seniors only: “I think that the administration’s decision to try to let the seniors have an in-person event and limit it to the seniors was a good one. It’s been difficult to keep COVID-19 under control on campus, from my own observations, and I don’t think we should be risking anything within these last few weeks of the semester.”

A petition was started on Friday, which now has 425 signatures, asking for a reevaluation of the commencement plans. The petition alleges that the college is being misleading when it says that the campus has been closed to the public because it has been allowing prospective students and their families on campus over the last few months. The petition also alleges that an open discussion with the Class of 2021 and the college’s administration never occurred. The petition asks for an outside ceremony with a limited number of tickets with the possibility of a split ceremony between Bachelors of Arts and Bachelors of Science graduates. It also says that campus students have been tested weekly and the readily available COVID-19 vaccines as other reasons to have the ceremony fully in person.

Senior Sean Pickerill says that the statement by the college about commencement, coupled with sports and admissions events held on campus recently paints a hypocritical message to seniors and their families: “It shows the true hypocrisy of the school. At the end of the day with the admissions events, it shows their true motives with the events, which is just to get more students here for the money. Also, at the end of the day, it shows that the school doesn’t really care about their students but rather the money the students give to the school.”

Senior Mazi Walker, who remains on the fence about commencement arrangements, does believe it is hypocritical that her family, who lives 20 minutes away from campus can’t visit her, yet the Admissions Department and Athletics has hosted families from Chicago and elsewhere for events this year.

Senior Megan Hettenhausen, who interns in the Athletic Department, says she has been helping the campus put on large events all school year. She says she has spoken with the college’s administration and was shut down: “I met with both President [Barbara] Farley and Dean [Jennie] Hemingway on separate occasions prior to the circulation of the petition. When I discussed [an in-person possibility] with each of them, Dean Hemingway’s main quote was ‘We’ve considered all options’ and President Farley’s was ‘We can’t bring one thousand strangers to campus.’ Prior to this petition, it still bothered me that we were not having an in-person graduation, because having my family there means a lot more to me than graduating with my class. I feel many people feel the same way.”

Hettenhouse says that the administration knows that a modified event could take place with people in-person. She says her work in the Athletic Department has shown that they can bring people to campus without major problems: “Especially due to COVID, we’ve had to modify every single event. I’ve worked with Katie Carls in [Illinois College’s] Events Department. I’ve done a variety of large events throughout I.C. so I know what it takes and I know how COVID has impacted all of the events here on campus. I know it is possible to have an in-person graduation.”

Illinois College President Barbara Farley said in the announcement on Friday that the hybrid model balances the need to keep the campus safe with the desire to provide graduates the meaningful experience they deserve. For a full schedule of events happening as part of the 187th Illinois College Commencement, visit