By Lana Sumner-Borema
Over the summer, Barry President Mike Allen announced the cancellation of the December commencement ceremony. The May commencement ceremony will now include all graduates from the fall term. The email announcing this major change was sent to all students after the decision was made, leaving some Barry seniors who were planning to walk in December with no chance to voice their opinion on the matter.
Ahmad Alharbi is one of these students. As a biology pre-optometry student from Saudi Arabia, Alharbi will be occupied with optometry research and work during the spring commencement. He made these plans last summer, assuming he would have the opportunity to walk in December.
As an international student, the news of the cancelled December commencement hit especially hard because Alharbi did not have plans to expend time or money to return to Barry.
“[A spring commencement] would mean that I have to get a new visa, which requires a lot of money and time especially with COVID,” said Alharbi. “Secondly, I’ll be busy with a shadowing program.”
Like Alharbi, many students at Barry are on student visas or other international visas and renewal or extensions on the visas must be planned in advance in order for them to remain in the country.
While this allows diversity at Barry, the implications of cancelling a winter commencement are more impactful for international students than for domestic students.
A chemistry senior from Jamaica who wanted to remain anonymous said she could not attend the spring commencement because of her plans to attend graduate school in the spring.
“I’m not planning on attending the Spring commencement because it won’t fit in my schedule, [being] that I’m planning to go out of state for graduate school,” said the student.
She adds that it was “disrespectful” for the university to not consult students in the decision, as many graduates were planning their futures around a December ceremony.
While students are disappointed that they won’t be able to attend spring graduation, their families are even more devastated.
“The news was very heartbreaking to my family, since they were planning to surprise me by coming to the commencement ceremony,” said Alharbi. “As the first person in my family to graduate from a university abroad, it would be devastating for them to not see me walk holding my diploma and celebrating my long hard journey of the past four years.”
The senior chemistry student is even more distraught due to the excessive measures her family took to attend her graduation in December.
“My older sister stayed in Miami instead of going back to Antigua to continue her studies because she knew I was supposed to graduate in December and she wanted to see me graduate,” said the student. “My parents did not have an opportunity to attend University and were anticipating my graduation. With this change, my family and I are very disappointed.”
Similarly, a biology major from the Bahamas who wanted to remain anonymous explains how difficult the announcement was for her and her family.
“Being able to graduate and to be commended for all the hard work I have accomplished is a token I dreamed of,” said the student. “It is something to cherish.”
However, from their disappointment came action as Alharbi organized petitions across Barry to protest the cancellation of the December ceremony.
After getting 226 signatures, he was able to organize a meeting with the President’s office on Nov. 8. At this meeting, Alharbi learned that the reasons for cancelling the ceremony included financial and logistical reasons, according to Vice President of Student Affairs, Scott Smith.
Still, Barry’s winter graduates feel that their sentimental reasons for wanting the ceremony far outweigh the financial concerns of the university. Alharbi and the other 226 students said they would appreciate any means to celebrate this notable moment of their academic careers, even if it's just a small ceremony with their fellow graduates.