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The commencement crowd at Western on Dec. 14, 2019. // Photo courtesy of Dan Levine

By Naileah Abarca

Winter commencement on Mar. 21 has been canceled due to the COVID-19, according to an email sent out to Western students on March 3. However, campus visits and tours are still on going, as are all classes. 

The Whatcom County Health Department confirmed the first case of COVID-19 on Tuesday, March 10. 

“President Sabah Randhawa, Provost Brent Carbajal, and I have determined that we will cancel Winter Commencement on March 21,” Vice President for Enrollment and Student Services Melynda Huskey said via email. “Our Commencement team will begin planning for the inclusion of winter graduates in our Spring Commencement celebration.” 

Many schools in the region like the University of Washington, have shut down the remainder of winter quarter classes amidst the COVID-19 outbreak. There is now one reported case of the virus in Whatcom county and students are still going home on the weekends and returning to campus. 

Claudia Rocha, a fifth-year Fairhaven art studio major, was upset upon hearing about the cancelation. 

“It’s especially hard because I’m one of the first in my family to graduate and my family was really excited to see me walk at commencement,” she said. 

Although Western is planning on creating a collaborative commencement in spring, some students already have plans for next quarter, meaning they won’t be able to return for the graduation ceremony. 

“I won't be able to come to the spring commencement either because I’m moving to Chicago for grad school,” Rocha said. 

Rocha isn’t the only student who is concerned about the cancelation. 

Patrick Wiess, a fourth year computer science major, said he isn’t sure if he will be able to make it to the joint commencement. 

“I got a new job recently and it's remote, I’m just not sure if I’ll be around [to make it to commencement],” he said. 

Walking across the stage to receive his diploma was important to Weiss because his family was going to be there and celebrate his accomplishment. 

“I wanted my parents to come and actually visit and watch,” he said. “They don't come and visit too often so it would’ve been a good time to close things off.” 

Although Wiess isn't sure if he and his family will be able to make it to commencement in the spring, he understands why Western took these precautions. 

“Of course I have been looking forward to graduating over several quarters, but at the same time, I’d like to say I totally understand and am supportive of their efforts to stop the spread,” he said. 

Ally Nuttbrock, a third year English major was upset that Western canceled commencement, but agrees it’s the best plan of action as of now. “I think it’s probably a wise decision to cancel graduation, lots of family will be traveling to Bellingham from all over and that is probably not the safest thing to do right now,” she said.  

Child development major Charlotte Berkan feels the same way but thinks every part of the university should take the same precautions. 

“I understand why they did it out of abundance of caution, but I feel like if they are canceling graduation, they should also cancel class, sporting events and [shut down] the Rec Center,” she said. 

So, why don’t they? 

“[We] currently have 646 undergraduates and 45 graduate students set up to graduate for winter 2020,” University Communications Director Paul Cocke said in an interview.  “It was decided out of an abundance of caution to cancel this large event. The university is developing a process to look at events on a case-by-case basis going forward.”

Cocke said that Western is giving instructors options on how to go about remote teaching. “WWU faculty have flexibility in determining how best to complete the remaining week of instruction and provide final exams for this quarter, including via online options and through Canvas, keeping the needs of students in mind as they make those decisions,” Cocke said. 

According to Cocke, Western is consulting with the Whatcom County Health Department on a regular basis and updating news of the virus spreads. 

“As conditions change, Western will continue to make decisions based on the best interests of the university community,” he said.

This article was written and edited before the university announced it was mandating remote teaching for the rest of the quarter. The Front will continue its coverage of these stories. For timely updates, please follow us on Facebook or Twitter.  

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