MOVING ON | 2020 KSU grads on why they chose not to participate in ceremony re-do

May 17—While some of K-State's class of 2020 elected to make the trip back to Manhattan to participate in this year's commencement ceremonies, many others decided not to or couldn't.

With 2020's spring and fall commencements canceled because of coronavirus concerns, K-State recognized both 2020 and 2021 graduates during the ceremonies Friday through Sunday. For some, that recognition was a little too late.

Some graduates said they'd moved far enough away that they didn't want to go through the effort of traveling back, others could not take off work, and some simply said the feeling wouldn't be quite the same being lumped in with another class and not being surrounded by the rest of their classmates.

Melanie Johnson, who earned bachelor's degrees in criminology and gender, women and sexuality studies, said she felt tired last year trying to plan around the ever-changing updates regarding commencement, from the delays to the increasingly smaller limits on the number of guests.

Johnson said instead of dwelling on what could have been, she has focused on her new career working at a domestic violence shelter in Kansas City, Missouri. She said she has found solace in the fact she is not alone in her experience and that everyone also is trying to make the best of their situation.

"I was a first-generation college student, so nothing would compare to the feeling of walking across that stage at K-State, especially being the first of my family," Johnson said. "For a while during 2020, it felt like a waste without closure. On the other hand, my family was so proud of me and made the trip all the way out to Manhattan just to surprise me with a party that I wasn't expecting, and for them to do that during such trying times really meant a lot. It was the closure I was looking for but just in a different way."

Caylynn Hartman, who earned her bachelor's in criminology, said she wished she'd been given more advance notice of the fall ceremony cancellation in particular because she'd already spent the money on graduation gear and announcements.

"Right after they had canceled ours, (K-State officials) told us about the opportunity to come back in the spring to do it, and I had already set my mind once they had told us (fall) was canceled." Hartman said. "I said if they're going to have one in the spring, I won't go because I already have so much going on, and I know I just won't have the time to physically make it back up."

Hartman said while she understood why there couldn't be in-person ceremonies, she felt that a graduation re-do wouldn't be as impactful as the class of 2020 having their own celebration. She, too, said she wanted to instead focus on her career working in the Sedgwick County Department of Corrections, building on the knowledge she learned at K-State.

Justin Gittle, who earned his bachelor's in music education, said he also would've appreciated more notice of ceremony cancellations last year because he was actually on a plane back to Manhattan when he heard the final announcement. He said he was grateful K-State made the decision to cancel the spring ceremony out of public safety, but the second cancellation stung a little more as he'd gotten his hopes up.

Because Gittle, a Manhattan High alum, is currently pursuing his master's in horn performance at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, he said he'd had to ask for time off from some of his responsibilities to come back to town. Finances, burnout and the uncertainty over whether rain would end up canceling this weekend's events all factored into Gittle's decision to forgo participating in the spring commencement.

"Since I had been so invested in my program and especially my peers, I just knew deep down that it wouldn't have felt the same." he said. "I felt like the time had passed for us, and now it was time for the graduates after us to celebrate so we could begin feeling more normal again."

Even so, Gittle said he tried to make the best of his situation, so while he was in town, he spent time with family, both in-person and over Zoom, and they shared a celebratory meal together. When he returned for winter break, he also got to see many of his friends who'd stayed in the Manhattan area.

"I was able to safely meet a few throughout my time being back and catch up on how their semesters went, whether they were still studying or out teaching," Gittle said. "It was nice to be able to bond over the collective bummer that was two canceled graduations, but it was much better being able to see them again and just be able to get back in touch, face-to-face."