By Julia Guerrein, Editor-in-Chief
On Friday, Vermont Law School (VLS) President and Dean Emeritus Thomas McHenry announced that commencement for the classes of 2020 and 2021 will be held virtually.
“We have decided to host a virtual Commencement celebration on Saturday, May 15, 2021,” read McHenry’s email. “We are excited to announce that we will be celebrating the Class of 2020 and the Class of 2021 together. This will a celebration of our graduating students and their many accomplishments.”
The Forum reached out to students in the Class of 2020 and 2021 to hear their reaction to the decision.
“Although it’s disappointing, I understand the need to keep everyone safe. I hope they find a way to work the bagpiper into the virtual celebration,” said Kyle Clauss, JD’20.
Justin Wood, a second-year AJD student, shared Clauss’ sentiment.
“As an AJD student, I’ve now spent more than half of my law school career in this virtual setting—which is obviously not what I was expecting—but I’m thankful that the school has been open and honest with us and done their best throughout this entire pandemic to keep this school running safely,” said Wood. “VLS has done its best to keep the students, faculty, staff, and community safe, while balancing the educational needs of the school. That requires tough decisions and sacrifices, and I am extremely grateful that our school has not had a surge of cases. The faculty and student’s resilience in adapting to this new style of learning is commendable. I know this is hard for us, but I would rather have a virtual graduation than risk putting someone’s life in danger.”
India Schoenherr, a second-year AJD student, remarked: “I am really excited that we get to celebrate the achievements of the classes of 2020 and 2021…Law school has not been easy, and adding a global pandemic on top of an already intellectually, mentally, and physically challenging time in our lives has only added to that stress!”
While some students felt that VLS made the right decision given the severity of the COVID-19 global pandemic, other students disagreed with the administration.
“It is unfair that VLS has kept us on our toes since the start of the school year, encouraging us to stay local, providing hope for any form of in-person interaction, just to decline us of our big moment in the eve of widespread vaccinations and control over the virus,” said Andrew Lechner, a current 3L. “And despite the reality that graduation has historically been held in a large, open environment that could easily be utilized with adequate safety precautions.”
Some students stated that the administration had not seriously considered options other than a virtual commencement.
“So many questions flooded my mind such as why not push it back, hold it outdoors in limited numbers and in different sections,” said Lucas Joseph, a current 3L. “We have been in this pandemic for a year now and we know how to take necessary protocols…There are ways to honor your graduates in a safe manner such as a private ceremony with only those of us who have been regularly tested. Very disappointed in this decision.”
“The administration’s premature decision to host commencement virtually tells me VLS is not interested in working with soon-to-be and recent graduates on potentially crafting a plan to celebrate with each other in person,” said Camden Knights, also a current 3L. “Instead of hosting a limited and tempered ceremony, the decision to go virtual comes as a knockout blow to all of us. There are many safe alternatives that could have been put into practice.
Others felt that the decision was appropriate given what will be over a year of virtual classes.
“I think it’s only appropriate that our graduation is virtual considering the past year has been exactly that,” said Schoenherr. “A virtual commencement encompasses the end of a journey for many and it’s kind of bittersweet! I would much rather celebrate and find some joy in this unique time, than feel like all I’ve been working towards is for nothing!”
“Although I’m disappointed that I won’t get to have a traditional in-person event, it’s honestly kind of fitting that graduation will be virtual, seeing as how my law school experience has been defined by this pandemic anyway,” said Wood.
While the VLS community will be unable to gather in-person for commencement, McHenry emphasized the importance of the commencement ceremony.
“On behalf of our staff and faculty, I want all of our graduating students to know how very proud we are of you,” wrote McHenry. “Please plan to participate and take this opportunity to celebrate your accomplishments with family and friends who may not otherwise be able to share this experience with you.”
Although commencement will be planned virtually, McHenry made it clear that VLS hopes to host an in-person celebration once one could be held safely.
“We hope to honor our graduating students in person when it is safe to do so. In the meantime, we look forward to celebrating with you virtually this spring,” wrote McHenry.
Graduating students should keep their eyes open for further instructions regarding graduating and commencement in the coming months.