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“It’s an American dream to walk on this stage”: Fresno State virtual graduation generates backlash

Fresno State is receiving backlash for its plans to conduct graduation ceremonies virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The university announced last week that the May Commencement will be virtual, and since all ceremonies were cancelled last year, the Class of 2020 is invited to join the Class of 2021 and take part in the virtual ceremonies. 

“We are incredibly proud of our graduating seniors, who have accomplished so much and persevered through adversity,” said Interim President Saul Jimenez-Sandoval in a statement. 

“This May, we will be celebrating the achievements of our graduating class virtually. I know there are fun plans underway to honor our 2021 graduating students, as well as our 2020 grads. 

“While we won’t be able to have any in-person events, we have learned that there are many ways to celebrate in a virtual world. I am sure we will see some real creativity this year!” 

Some students, however, have not taken lightly to the decision.

A petition on Change.org was started to implore the university to shift directions and figure out a way to hold in-person ceremonies. 

Once such option could be to use Bulldog Stadium instead of the Save Mart Center, giving the university an outdoor setting where students, families and faculty can spread out. 

“We are asking Fresno State to consider working with students to create a ceremony that celebrates our achievements and gives our families a chance to see us graduate,” the petition reads.

As of Tuesday morning, the petition had nearly 2,000 signatures. 

Many students are among the signees and offered comments in support of the petition. 

“My grandparents didn’t swim across the mighty MeKong River, dodging bullets, for me not to have an official graduation,” Mai Vue wrote. “To make them proud, I spent most of my life studying. I didn’t [go] to school 16 years for nothing. It’s an American dream to walk on that stage.” 

Gabriella Costilla commented: “I am a first generation college student who was able to overcome very hard times in my life. I was able to beat the odds on getting a degree. We deserve an in person graduation. It has been a year since COVID started. Telling us that we have a virtual graduation just says that Fresno State does not want to go the extra mile for their seniors. Please reconsider this.”

Fresno State Athletics took some flak in the comments.

While the vast majority of the university’s students were required to remain home to engage in the distance-learning format, all athletic teams have been on campus practicing as well as undergoing frequent coronavirus testing per the Mountain West’s directive. 

“Virtual graduation is such a damn joke,” Jacqueline Martinez wrote. “We did not work so hard to be pushed back into a screen. I pushed myself so hard to graduate, as a first generation university student. The days I would not even eat to be able to afford gas to drive back home to sleep after my night classes. The time I didn’t sleep for 3 days straight to finish my projects and study sessions. The ceremony was the thing that I looked forward to, as well as my family. It just seems like Fresno State loves their football athletes to get them COVID testing, hotels and paid flights, but then push us students aside, especially once graduated. This is so sad!”

Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.