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Daniel Paulsen, 2020 University of Oregon graduate, voiced his opinion on the university's decision to host Olympic Trails over commencement. (Kimberly Harris/Emerald)

After the University of Oregon decided June 12 to hold its spring 2021 commencement ceremony virtually, some seniors have organized to request that UO consider in-person graduation alternatives. 

UO said its decision for a virtual commencement was made with “great care” and in accordance with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other public health officials. 

In response to this decision, UO senior Ally Grimaldi created a petition asking the administration to include UO students in reconsidering possible commencement alternatives.

The petition lists a few alternatives: hosting commencement outdoors in spaces like Autzen Stadium or Hayward Field; vaccinating spring 2021 graduates or postponing graduation events until summer 2021. 

The petition has 1,700 signatures as of April 1. 

“The Olympic Trials are still being held six days after our virtual commencement ceremony,” UO student Daniel Paulsen commented on the petition. “Make it make sense.” 

In an email sent to students on March 18, UO said that they might be able to add an in-person activity to previous commencement plans. 

Paulsen also quote tweeted the university’s tweet about the cancelation, saying that if UO made this decision in respect to safety, then UO should pull out of hosting the Track and Field Olympic Trials. In response, UO tweeted that UO is working with TrackTown USA, who is working with state and county health officials, to ensure that the Olympic Trials follow public health guidelines. Paulsen said in an interview with the Emerald that he viewed this response as a “cop out.” 

Other supporters of the petition said that it is an unfair use of students’ tuition money, suggesting that graduates get vaccines and that it is unfair to host the U.S. Olympic Team Trials a week later. 

In an interview with the Emerald, Vice President for Student Life Kevin Marbury said that hosting the U.S. Olympic Team Trials was an obligation signed many years ago.

“If they’re able to safely hold the event, we’re obligated to honor that contract,” Marbury said.

Paulsen said that he wishes UO would have offered free caps and gowns or another amenity for students in lieu of an in-person graduation to “lessen the backfire.”

The university said it will waive the separate commencement fee that the university traditionally charges to students this year. The UO Alumni Association is covering the cost of diploma covers. 

Paulsen said that he found this decision to cancel in-person commencement to be premature. 

 “I think with the athletics being in person, with a lot of the more recent vaccinations ramping up on a federal level, I think it's, a) very premature but, b) showed that the university just didn't really have the time to plan something like this, which doesn't really sit well when you spend four years at a place, give them a lot of money and spend four years thinking about graduation,” Paulsen said. 

The university said that it chose not to make a decision later in the term because it determined that it is unlikely that gatherings of more than 50 to 75 people will be allowed, making an in-person event highly unlikely according to its commencement webpage.

On March 26, Lane County moved into the low risk level. This means that indoor spaces can hold 50% capacity, and outdoor gatherings have increased to a maximum of 300 people. 

In the email sent to students on March 18, the UO said students will be notified as soon as any new graduation plans are confirmed due to the risk level change.  

Paulsen said that while the petition “obviously was great,” he does not think that the decision will change due to the amount of work it takes to plan a graduation ceremony. Despite this reality, he said he saw the petition as showing camaraderie among his class. 

“We have all learned throughout college that you have to use your voice to stand up for what you want,” Paulsen said. “I think this is a good example of how on the same page we all are as a class.” 

Editor’s note: UO senior Ally Grimaldi works for the Daily Emerald as a copy editor. She was not interviewed for this story and was not involved in the editing of this story.