Students have reacted with disappointment and frustration as the University of Sydney cancelled in-person graduation ceremonies for the remainder of 2021.
In an email on 24 September, Vice-Chancellor Mark Scott said that USyd had made this decision due to “NSW health advice.”
This is despite NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian signalling a “roadmap to freedom,” which lifts restrictions on movement and indoor and outdoor gatherings from 11 October.
In their email, the University did not consider rescheduling graduation ceremonies to 2022, which Honi understands is due to the number of existing ceremonies currently scheduled for 2022.
Student Sarah Cutter-Russell started a petition on the same day of the announcement. After being told about how “deeply impersonal and underwhelming” last year’s online ceremony was, Cutter-Russell was dismayed to see the University cancel in-person ceremonies in the wake of NSW beginning to open up.
“It just feels like they’ve chosen the easy way out, and not what’s best for students,” Cutter-Russell told Honi. “Their official grad website states that USyd only has the resources to reschedule postdoctoral/PhD ceremonies for next year. This is something I find difficult to accept. The uni owns all their venues, and students pay to graduate.”
Over 500 people have signed Cutter-Russell’s petition, many of them students and families who share the same frustrations, and some who had their ceremony for their first degree cancelled in 2020.
“I think they should’ve rescheduled, to be honest,” said Michael Gonzaga, a Commerce (Analytics) graduate. “The date to be able to do this isn’t that far off, with vaccine rates being what they are.”
For Tracey*, an Arts/Advanced studies graduate who works at the USU in graduation academic dressing, “I know the impact this decision has on people’s already precarious employment in hospitality and retail,” saying that a cancelled ceremony “is yet another disappointment from Sydney Uni that seems easily avoidable.”
A source close to the University Executive said that the Vice-Chancellor was “responsive” to changing his stance. “Due to the release of the Public Health Order [last week], USyd is in a different position to what they originally envisaged,” they said.
Indeed, a University spokesperson earlier this week said that “we are going to reconsider whether it is possible to hold graduation celebrations in some form in December 2021.”
“Many of our graduates remain offshore so we are creating personalised virtual ceremonies, giving the opportunity to participate in a graduation ceremony in a travel-restricted environment.”
Honi’s source said that the Senate will make a decision early next week.
Until then, graduates like Ella*, who studied law, hope that USyd reverses its stance. “In my case, this event is a culmination of 26 years of sacrifice from my parents and 8 years of many personal ups-and-downs … Graduations are an irreplaceable life experience for many … [but] remote graduations almost trivialise this.”
Ella told Honi that graduates were not given an adequate explanation for USyd’s decision, and that USyd could take a “creative approach by doing outdoor graduations … As one of the most reputable universities in Australia and in the world, I know [USyd] can do better.”
Names have been changed.