Graduating seniors impacted by COVID-19 cancellations

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Leer en español: Los graduandos afectados por cancelaciones causada por COVID-19

BYU graduates line mingle on campus. Graduating seniors this year are missing out on the milestone of graduation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (BYU Photo)

College graduation is considered to be a milestone moment for many. But the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing this year’s BYU seniors to grapple with how missing out on graduation is impacting them in the present and will impact them in the future.

Keena Kleven is a graduating senior from Mt. Pleasant, Utah, studying illustration. Kleven said the impacts of COVID-19 has greatly affected her senior capstone project and post-graduation plans. 

“In the BFA illustration major, we work for years on our senior capstone project, researching and putting in hours and hours of art,” Kleven said. “After we destroyed ourselves getting it done for the March deadline, it was announced that (the art reception show) would be canceled.”

The main reception night is when art students meet representatives from companies and make connections for future jobs. 

“Being in the art field, it’s not the best career to have when the economy plummets. Studios have been closing, companies aren’t hiring,” Kleven said. “Even after things start to calm down, the world doesn’t just heal overnight. It takes time to build things back up and get the economy working well again, and people’s priorities aren’t art when things get financially rough.” 

Kleven also had plans to graduate the same time as her sister, who has been in and out of the hospital while trying to get her degree.

“This was finally the year she could graduate, and I could do it with her. We will still get our diplomas, which is nice, it’s just a bummer that we won’t get that college graduation experience,” she said.

Despite the setbacks caused by COVID-19, Kleven said she’s been able to get through it by reminding herself that this time will pass.

“It’s not the end of the world and things will be o.k.,” Kleven said. “It’s just gonna take a little time, but tomorrow will come and we will get through this. It also really helps having great roommates and friends that are here to support and love each other.”

Illustration major Keena Kleven poses in front of her artwork displayed in the Harris Fine Arts Center (Keena Kleven).

Emily Hughes is also a graduating senior who’s had to deal with the impacts of a canceled capstone project after years of dedicated work. The theatre arts studies major had to direct a 35-minute stage production and has been working on the script for nearly two years. 

“We got the email regarding how the rest of the semester would be going on March 12, one week before my show was set to perform,” Hughes said. “It not only affected me but my cast and crew of over 20 people. I was the only one getting class credit for this, everyone else was volunteering their time and talents to this project since we started meeting in January.”

As far as canceled graduation ceremonies go, Hughes is trying to recognize the positive side of the situation.

“My parents and in-laws were planning on flying in from North Carolina and California, respectively,” Hughes said. “I suppose it’s a good thing the ceremonies were canceled since I would’ve had to find extra tickets for everyone.”

Hughes is also concerned about her plans after graduating. She had intended to stage managing a show with An Other Theatre Company in Provo.

“Not only was the show cancelled but the director we’d hired is currently being held under quarantine in NYC where she lives,” Hughes said. “After graduation, I’m mostly working as a freelance theatre-maker, so with all the recent closures, I’m basically out of work in my field.”

Emily Hughes is a theatre arts studies major who was planning on graduating this April. (Emily Hughes)

Donna Jo Smith, a 60-year-old non-traditional student, was scheduled to graduate this April with her son Logan Smith. 

“I paced my graduation so my son and I could graduate and walk together,” Smith said. “I just thought it’d be very memorable and make it that much more special.”

A canceled graduation ceremony is not going to stop this mother and son duo from commemorating this important milestone. Smith still plans on purchasing a cap and gown and taking photos with her son by the Brigham Young statue and the BYU sign. 

“I think that provides a memory that will solidify the experience,” Smith said. “It’s something that’s traditional and we’re not losing out on that tradition. I think we’re going to do that, ham it up and make lemonade out of lemons.” 

Despite the unexpected ending to her BYU career, Smith said she loved every moment of her time at the university. 

“It has been so awesome to come back and be in the university environment because there’s so much energy on campus with the professors and students. Plus, I would always joke about how my new best friends are 20,” she said.

Donna Jo Smith, left, was planning on graduating and walking with her son Logan Smith, right, this April. (Donna Jo Smith)

Smith first enrolled as a university student in 1978 and worked on completing her GEs. She left because she didn’t know what to study but returned in 1981 to work as an employee and take night classes. She came back again as a full-time student in 1985 and even applied for graduation, but after the premature birth of her last child, she chose to forego finishing her classes to care for her baby. After raising her five children, she decided it was time to go back to college. 

“My husband always supported me in my desire to go back to college,” Smith said. “I’ve been getting a lot of questions like, ‘Are you going to grad school? Are you going to get a job in your field?’ The answer is no, it was just a life goal of mine to finish what I’ve started so long ago.”

Smith says it’s heartbreaking to see her classmates also miss walking at graduation — a memory that she says caps off the entire college experience.

“While I’m saddened at not having a graduation experience, or not being able to say goodbye to my professors, I feel bad for the younger people that it will maybe affect more,” Smith said. “But we will pull through and it’s going to be o.k.” 


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