Equity and Efficiency in Graduation

As the semester comes to an end, I reflect on my time at the University of Puget Sound and appreciate the unique experiences that are only offered here, both in and outside of the classroom. One of the highlights of my senior year was taking the Law and Economics course during the fall semester. This course was one that I genuinely enjoyed learning about and was sad the few times that I had to miss class. The course analyzes the costs and benefits of taking risks and precautions to various types of accidents to come up with a solution that minimizes costs for all parties involved. These principles are used to economically justify policies and social norms that are equitable and efficient.

Given the restrictions of quarantine and social distancing of the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Puget Sound recently announced that the commencement ceremony for the class of 2020 would be delayed and combined with the class of 2021 next spring. Aside from the official date, the university has not released details about what this combination looks like, likely because officials are still trying to navigate through this unexpected challenge. Amongst this uncertainty, the campus community has discussed many rumors and concerns about what this dual ceremony will look like for graduates and spectators. Since graduation is a very emotional time and there are lots of logistical coordinations that go into executing Commencement, I thought it would be interesting to look at the situation through a Law and Economics perspective. This approach will  focus on equity in recognizing the accomplishments and experiences for class of 2020 and class of 2021 and the efficiency of the various resources needed to run the event. I interviewed members from the class of 2020 and class of 2021 who also took the Law and Economics course to get their thoughts and suggestions on how the university should approach the conflict.

The university could combine the graduating classes into an extended ceremony with one very large graduating class. Combining the two classes together celebrates the unique situation as a whole by recognizing that they are (hopefully) the only classes to have their graduation experience altered from the COVID-19 pandemic. However, if both classes are merged together, it is likely that their individual class identities will be overlooked and “just feel less special for both of us” claims Emma Weirich ‘20. Holding one large graduation ceremony will likely be more cost-effective for the university to rent the necessary equipment(stage, chairs, audio, etc..), rather than rent the same equipment for two smaller ceremonies. Spectators who plan to attend the ceremony have expressed concerns about how this strategy could also impact the ceremony’s length and limited seating for audience members. Additionally, this approach will increase stress that the universities and surrounding Tacoma areas typically experience for graduation(workers, parking, limited seating, length of the ceremony, travel accommodations, etc..).

Another potential solution for organizing the commencement ceremony would be for the school to separate the event for each graduating class. If the university holds separate ceremonies for the class of 2020 and class of 2021, there is more flexibility in how they structure it. First, the university could hold separate ceremonies for each class on the same day or weekend which will recognize the individual classes more similarly to the original graduation plan. Holding two ceremonies close together will celebrate each individual class and their experiences, but still unite them through the abnormal setup. This approach uses the same quantity of equipment and resources that the University would have if the events were separated for a year, but only need to be rented, set up, and dismantled once. Separate ceremonies will also maximize the number of guests per graduate and be more accessible for those that can only sit through a shorter ceremony than the extended ceremony option. Unfortunately, this solution will still extend the period of stress that businesses and employees face from a normal commencement ceremony. With both graduating classes and their friends and family traveling to Tacoma, it is likely that some will need to look further away for housing accommodations. Another realistic approach would be for the university to hold the same events on back to back weekends. This compromise would give enough space for both classes to either celebrate individually or connect with friends in the other class. It would also relieve some of the financial burden and stress the school and surrounding area might have from holding the ceremonies closer to each other, while also relaxing stress for travel accommodations.

Others have suggested a graduation ceremony for the class of 2020 either during the summer or during the following fall semester. Given that there is a possibility that the community could remain closed for several more months and online classes could be extended into fall, this option is unlikely. While members of the senior class who have stayed in the area could still attend, those with secured plans for the summer and fall would be unlikely to attend. Obviously the entire situation is not ideal, however postponing the commencement ceremony allows individuals to make the necessary plans to return(if they choose to), but also delays any sense of closure for the class of 2020.  Emma Weirich ‘20 thinks a summer or fall event would be better because “it would feel weird going back to campus(in May). It would feel like I never moved on”.

Since the ceremony for the class of 2020 has already been affected by this pandemic, my main question is “Is it equitable and efficient to also impact the ceremony for the class of 2021?” It is unclear if the pandemic will extend graduation celebrations past spring of 2021, but holding individual ceremonies allows for the class of 2021 to have some sort of normalcy in the situation. Holding both ceremonies in May of 2021 provides the school with time to properly organize a ceremony that acknowledges the accomplishments of both classes and gives the class of 2020 time to make the necessary preparations if they plan to return for the ceremony. Even though the delayed ceremony is not what either class expected, it is a very unique situation that only the class of 2020 and 2021 will get to experience(assuming the community can reopen relatively soon). Regardless of what the future ceremony will look like, Zack Meyer ‘21 makes an important note that graduates are still receiving their degrees and that “the knowledge and skills (I’ve) received from Puget Sound don’t just magically leave (me) because graduation was different”. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Emma Weirich ’20 believes that the University is offering “the best plan anyone could have thought of without risking everyone’s health”. Either way, it seems like both classes have faith that “the school will figure out what is possible and best for everyone involved” Zack Meyer ‘21. Regardless, I hope others look forward to reuniting with fellow Loggers next spring to celebrate the accomplishments of both classes. Hack Hack Chop Chop!


2 Replies to “ Equity and Efficiency in Graduation”

  1. Every senior should read this — or you should just hand it out when people start fretting. It is consoling to step back and actually consider the costs and benefits. Good application of what you learned.

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