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BC Community Laments Loss of Guests at Commencement

Boston College’s ban on guests at Commencement means Andrea Catacora will not be able to walk across the stage in front of two parents who worked for years to watch their daughter receive something they never could—a leather-backed college diploma.

“I’m first gen and … we immigrated here when I was, like, six months old, and this is, like, probably one of the biggest moments for them,” said Catacora, MCAS ’21. “This graduation is mostly for my parents.”

Catacora and many fellow seniors were left disappointed on Tuesday after University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., announced that guests will not be allowed at BC’s in-person Commencement for the Class of 2021. 

The announcement followed months of COVID-19 related cancellations and restrictions that prevented seniors from participating in many traditions during their last year at BC. 

Christine Swanson, mother of Jordyn Mason, MCAS ’21, started a petition on Tuesday urging the University to allow parents to attend Commencement in person. 

Swanson said she created the petition in response to the outcry of parents on the Boston College Parents Page on Facebook who said they would sign a petition if one was created. 

“These kids have really been great troopers through the last 15 months, you know,” Swanson said. “But I do think the graduation, which is the culmination of all their hard work, really should be shared with their parents who have been right beside them and supporting them through what has been extremely trying times for everyone.”

Despite the months of COVID-19 restrictions, Catacora said her mother still held out hope that she would be able to see her daughter graduate in person.

“She was just disappointed and confused that … there are baseball games going on right now in Massachusetts and there’s other events that are being held with COVID restrictions in place,” she said. “And the fact that they also have to come up to move me out still, like, they’re going to be on campus as many people’s parents are.”

Dan DiCocco, MCAS ’21, said he does not understand why parents can’t attend Commencement if they will be on campus to help with moving out.

“So, it’s hard to justify how they couldn’t be out in an outdoor space when they’re all going to be coming indoors anyway to help us leave,” DiCocco said.

DiCocco said his parents have already expressed frustration over this decision.

“I mean, more than anything they’re just bummed, you know,” DiCocco said.  

Colleen Fee, mother of Jack Miller, former Heights editor and MCAS ’21, said she is disappointed about missing the third graduation in her family.

“I’m still sort of absorbing the news, but I think it certainly will be disappointing to kind of be watching TV,” Fee said. “And in our family, Jack’s two brothers graduated last year, so we’re zero for three for graduations.”

Despite not being allowed to attend herself, Fee said the most important thing to her is that the students will get to experience a ceremony in person together.

DiCocco said graduation feels a little bit like a waste of time without the parents there.

“Graduation is mostly like for your parents, or it’s more for your parents than it is for you,” he said. “I don’t want to say, like, it’s not a special moment and event, but in reality, this means way more for them than it does for us.”

Joey Reda, on the other hand, said that although he’s disappointed, he’s still grateful to have an in-person ceremony.

“There’s been a lot of stuff that’s happened this year that’s not what anyone envisioned their senior year being, so relatively speaking I’m very glad we’re getting something in person,” Reda, CSOM ’21, said.

Anthony Figura, CSOM ’21, said that though his parents are upset about not attending his graduation in person, they understand BC’s decision.

Figura said he completely understands BC’s decision and hopes the senior class will be grateful for the opportunity to graduate in person.

“It’s a decision that nobody wants to make, but I think at the end of the day, BC has educated us to be grateful for everything that we have and grateful for the opportunities which we’re given, and I think this is just one prime example of us being able to step up to that occasion,” he said.

Sarah Riegel, CSON ’21, said she’s upset by the announcement given the capacity of Alumni Stadium and other Boston-area universities’ ability to invite guests to their commencements.

“I do not think they’re making a good decision,” Riegel said. “Because I know Northeastern, which has an outdoor stadium, is doing an in-person graduation with guests, and honestly that is what my friends and I all thought BC was gonna do, because it has a massive football stadium.”

Leahy cited health and capacity regulations from Massachusetts, which limit stadiums that hold 5,000 or more people to 12 percent capacity. Alumni Stadium, where Commencement is held, can hold 44,500 people, which would limit BC to 5,340 people at graduation under these guidelines. 

In the end, the people I want to celebrate with me won’t be there, and that’s what matters.

In addition to the graduates, the ceremony will host trustees, senior administrators, honorary degree recipients, and faculty marshals, Leahy said in the email.

Swanson suggested that the four schools be divided into separate ceremonies, and David Brooks, this year’s commencement speaker, could be broadcast live at each of the locations. 

Swanson’s petition garnered 1,692 signatures at the time of publication. As of now, Swanson said she is aiming for 2,000 signatures on the petition and hopes to present it to the BC administration.

“I’m just simply trying to make our voices heard, help the students make their voices heard so that change can happen, and that BC will in fact honor them the way they should be honored,” she said.

Though she still thinks she’ll enjoy the ceremony, Riegel said not having her loved ones around her takes a lot of the excitement out of the day.

“I’m not dreading it, but I’m not excited about it,” Riegel said. “It’ll be nice closure, I guess, to walk across the stage, but in the end, the people I want to celebrate with me won’t be there, and that’s what matters.”

In light of last year’s Commencement being canceled, Rayan Habbab, BC ’20, said that this year’s seniors should try to enjoy their final weeks with classmates.

“At least for me personally I think that would free up a lot of mental space to kind of really concentrate on those bonds that I made across the four years of college without having to be like stressing about what my parents are doing and like what they want to be doing,” he said. 

Habbab said he understood the decision administrators made to cancel his class’s graduation.

“I mean at least me personally, I definitely wanted them to do, kind of, whatever they thought was safest and best for students and our parents as well,” he said. 

But Habbab said many members of the Class of 2020 still hope for a substitute for their canceled ceremony. 

Catacora said though her parents might have to watch her walk across the stage from their hotel room, her family will surely still celebrate. 

“We’re trying to see what we can safely do like around the city or just together when we go back home,” she said. “… They definitely want to still commemorate it and do something special.”

Catacora said she thinks administrators could have found a safe way to allow parents to attend in person.

“I feel like with the amount of effort they’ve put into COVID regulations right now on campus, and the amount of testing that they’re able to do, and the resources that they probably have, I think it could be possible and I think it wasn’t really the right decision,” she said.

Ultimately, Fee said she hopes that BC will take resources that would have been used to ensure a fully-attended Commencement to create a more memorable ceremony for the graduates.

“I’m really hopeful that the University, you know, if they don’t have to worry about parents, and they don’t have to worry about managing COVID testing and contact tracing or whatever would have been involved had parents been present, I hope they take that time, energy, and money and put it into making the lead up and the ceremony itself really, really special,” Fee said.

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Archives

April 19, 2021
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