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University Of Illinois Class Of 2021 Graduates Reflect On COVID Graduation

From left to right: Chris Abarro, Miku Morikuni, and Ilie Vartic pose for a photo in front of Alma Mater. The trio have been friends since their freshman year days at Pennsylvania Avenue Residence Hall.


URBANA — Bells rang across the University of Illinois’s main quadrangle as seniors lined up at Alma Mater to take graduation pictures by Altgeld Tower.

From left to right: Karolina Koziarski, Meera Joshi, Miku Morikuni, Katie Roscher, and Grace Mcdonough pile on top of one another for a photo at Memorial Stadium. The group have been friends since freshman year and have made taking photos together a yearly tradition. Sabrina Lee

Pandemic or no, May is still graduation season on the Urbana campus.

An estimated 5,600 University of Illinois students graduated during the weekend of May 15. However, for many of them, this weekend’s graduation ceremonies were less than they’d hoped.

The university’s 2021 commencement ceremonies consisted primarily of an in-person, individual, private stage-crossing ceremony with just a few invited guests, combined with a virtual celebration recognizing all the graduates.

Many seniors said they were happy to get any sort of graduation after such a strange academic year.

The pandemic kept graduate Miku Morikuni apart from her family for a year. And now it has kept her father from attending her graduation.

“My dad is still working, and a lot of work has returned to in-person in Japan,” she said. “So it’s logistically difficult for him to take three weeks off from work, even if he were only in the States for a week for my graduation.

“He would have to go back to Japan and quarantine for two weeks, and that was just logistically very difficult.” 

Tyler Schwartzoff, a senior in Chemical Engineering, said he wanted the university to provide more than it has in terms of celebration for graduates. 

Morikuni and Roscher spin for a photo during a graduation photoshoot. The two have been roommates for three years now and are as close as can be. Sabrina Lee

“I kinda feel like the university is more trying to do the bare minimum to placate people instead of actually trying to do something to celebrate,” Schwartzoff said. 

Laura Wilhelm-Barr,  the university’s director of special events, said the primary goal has been to celebrate the graduates.

“We’re just really proud of everything, especially during this year that the graduates have accomplished and all the hard work they’ve put in,” she said. “We want to do everything we can to help them celebrate, you know, what a great accomplishment it is to be a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.”

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