The University of Guam holds its first virtual commencement, as schools explore similar alternatives

by Jun 23, 2020Coronavirus, Guam0 comments

The University of Guam held its virtual commencement ceremony for its graduates on June 18.

The UOG conferred degrees to 360 graduates at its Fañomnåkan Commencement Ceremony.

“Commencement is an important tradition in the lives of our college graduates. It represents the culmination of their hard work to earn their degrees and the beginning of the next chapter in their lives,” said UOG President Thomas W. Krise. “Despite the circumstances caused by the coronavirus, proceeding with a virtual commencement ceremony allows us to honor the accomplishments and perseverance of our students.”

The virtual ceremony included remarks from UOG President Thomas Krise and Senior Vice President and Provost Anita Borja Enriquez and a keynote speech by former Guam resident US Ambassador Yuri Kim. Kim is the first Korean-American woman and the first person from Guam to be a US ambassador.

For a traditional ceremony, UOG gathers a large committee to manage the logistics and the conferring of degrees. The team receives the VIPs and fosters the pomp and circumstances during a time when students feel extra proud.

This year, the virtual format requires recordings of the event beforehand.

“You will see the platform party with the administrators and faculty in regalia marching in at the beginning of the ceremony,” said Camacho. “We dressed up our stage as if we had a traditional ceremony with the podium, the flags, and the flowers.” 

The virtual ceremony follows the same format and the script of past traditional commencements. 

The team recorded the ceremony in incremental portions and introduced the key speakers, including the president, the valedictorian, and the guest speaker.

“Each dean in a traditional ceremony will have the graduates in their schools stand up and inform the president that the students have been reviewed and recommended for conferral degrees by the faculty,” said Camacho.

“We are playing it as if we were addressing the students, so the dean will tip the hat to the president, and the president will tip the hat to the dean,” said Camacho. The tipping of the hat occurs after the degrees are awarded.

The event will feature the usual invocation, benediction, and the singing of the national anthem and the Guam Hymn. As the ceremony begins and ends, the speakers will march up and off the stage as they would in a regular ceremony.

“We even had some students come in regalia to present their class gifts,” said Camacho.

Public schools held Grad & Go graduation ceremonies

The Guam Department of Education (GDOE) announced it would hold drive-through Grad & Go graduation ceremonies in the first week of June to celebrate the accomplishments of graduating high school seniors.  

The ceremonies allowed graduating seniors to pick up their diplomas with their loved ones using a drive-through system that allows each graduate to receive their diploma and take a graduation photo, according to GDOE.

Additionally, PBS Guam was airing graduation messages from each high school valedictorian and salutatorian beginning in the last half of June. 

Valedictorians and salutatorians traditionally provide commencement speeches and still were given this opportunity to impart the final message to their class on PBS Guam Channel 12, thanks to support from PBS Guam and the Office of the Governor.  

“I want to thank our high schools for pushing forward with creative ideas to recognize our students while taking into account the safety of our students, staff, and families,” GDOE Superintendent Jon Fernandez said. “Our students have worked hard for the last 12 years, and this is an exciting time for them to celebrate their accomplishments and to begin their new adventure after high school.”  

UOG enrollment steady as stateside universities face a downturn

Off-island college students from Guam could be turning to the University of Guam to continue their studies in the fall as the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed learning off-campus and online across the nation.

“We are an excellent alternative for those students who are unable to return to college in the mainland due to the pandemic,” said UOG Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Jonas Macapinlac.

Local high school graduates who were planning to study abroad may also be staying closer to home for their first semester of college. 

For others, UOG could be an option that saves resources if they decide to defer acceptance to four-year stateside universities.

“UOG is an excellent choice for high school graduates seeking a pathway for their futures. Students can take our courses fully online or in a hybrid configuration and eventually – and hopefully sooner rather later – come back to regular face-to-face classes,” said Macapinlac of the college which halted on-campus instruction on March 30.

A recent survey of 573 U.S. high school students by an Alexandria, Virginia-based higher education consulting firm found a fifth of potential incoming college freshmen may not attend at all in the fall. The major reason given was the financial impact of the pandemic.

In April, the American Council on Education projected a 15% drop in enrollment in higher education in the upcoming academic year.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act provided $30 billion in federal funding for education, $14 billion specifically for higher education institutions. President of the American Association of State College and Universities Mildred García wrote in a post on their website that the amount “still falls short of what is desperately needed on our campuses.”

But Macapinlac said the island university is actually a “little ahead” in the enrollment for the fall semester this year as opposed to last, and enrollment for summer sessions is on par with last year.

In fall 2019, 3,563 students enrolled at UOG.

While the pandemic may keep local students on the island, students coming to Guam from other parts of the world to study will likely drop off, according to Macapinlac.

“(We) do expect to see a slight decrease in our regional and international student enrollment, mainly because the pandemic has greatly affected travel,” he said.

For new or returning students, the tight-knit community at UOG may be part of the appeal during the global health crisis.

“One of the things we’ve seen during this pandemic is that our community of Tritons is like no other. These last few weeks has been a time of adjustments and adaptation – from the ability of our faculty and students to move all courses online this semester, to coming together in support of COVID-19 relief efforts, to collaborating with other public agencies, private businesses and community organizations to bring about innovative solutions that will move our island forward,” Macapinlac said.

Lifting of public restrictions under review

Governor Lou Leon Guerrero said she is still reviewing data to weigh when it’s time to allow the lifting of more restrictions on public activities. Data that will be considered include the number of COVID-19 cases and tracing of people who have had contacts with patients. 

She didn’t say when she will announce a possible lifting of restrictions. The opening of restaurants for dining in, the resumption of business for gyms, and the reopening of public beaches and parks for social gatherings remain on hold.