Tell Roosevelt University to give 2020 and 2021 Graduates an in-person Graduation

Tell Roosevelt University to give 2020 and 2021 Graduates an in-person Graduation

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Olivia Byrne started this petition to University President Dr. Ali Malekzadeh

My name is Olivia Byrne and I am a Roosevelt University graduate as of May 2021. I worked and studied hard and spent tens of thousands of dollars to attend this university for the last 4 years. During my time at Roosevelt I encountered roadblocks that factored into me becoming almost an entire semester behind and it didn't look like I would be graduating on time. I enrolled in 4 extra classes over the summer and was able to get back on track before my senior year. My school also told me it did not look like I would be able to complete the Honors program and I would not earn the grade I needed on my Honors thesis. Yet again, I was able to work hard, prove others wrong, and I earned the Honors designation.

My story is not all that unique; many students work tirelessly to get to this culmination of all the years of schooling and they also give a lot of money to universities to complete their degree. Though most graduates do get to have their moment to walk across a stage, be handed their diploma, and family & friends can celebrate with them. In the case for Roosevelt 2020 and 2021 graduates, this was not given to them. Although I believe Roosevelt made many decisions over these past two years to preserve student safety, I do not believe this decision was for our benefit. I also believe that not having a graduation is far from the worst situation caused by the pandemic and I am grateful for my health and grateful for mandates to keep us safe. I do, however, think that this is a feasible ask and we have earned this. 

RU 2021 graduates were offered a "Grad Walk," in March (two months before school ends) in which they could bring one person with them to the Auditorium Theater to watch them walk across the stage, take a picture, and be handed an empty degree cover. I was upset to hear I was only allowed to bring one person with me. I did not want to offend one of my parents by not choosing them. I was one of many graduates who could not attend the "Grad Walk" because I was still working hard to finish my thesis so I could actually graduate come May. I had also just gotten out of COVID isolation and did not want to risk getting people sick. I did, however, think that since vaccines were becoming much more prevalent in Chicago, that by the time May rolled around, we would be given an in-person ceremony. Unfortunately, I overestimated Roosevelt's kindness.

Some people who did attend the event were very disappointed that they could not bring their family members and were underwhelmed by the quality of the photo op. Most students did not receive their cords with their cap and gown by March and some have still not received them now (me included). The virtual ceremony held in May was also upsetting to many. Some graduates recorded videos they were asked to create and were told they would be included, but were never shown. One student, Chijioke Williams, was even dead named at the ceremony after doing everything in her power to make sure her correct name was read. This long-awaited moment was beyond diminished for Chijioke. 

2020 graduates had an even less prepared virtual ceremony, with blurry video clips lacking quality sound; some students names were missed entirely. These graduates were told they would get to walk the stage with us 2021 graduates. That now makes two classes who have gotten empty promises and missed out on an important moment to celebrate their accomplishments. 

The event Roosevelt held in March for graduates was presumptuous since vaccines were finally being rolled out and now Chicago has gotten the 'OK' to host gatherings such as graduations. Many universities in Illinois and beyond found ways to have safe, in-person graduations: whether it was held outside, recorded for families to watch, etc. The Roosevelt "Grad Walk" was a cop out. 45% of students at Roosevelt are first generation (me included). 45% of the student body are people of color. For an institution that constantly mentions how they're founded on social justice, there is not a lot of social justice for their students.

I wrote a letter to President Ali Malekzadeh and Vice Provost Katrina Coakley detailing students' disappointment; I was never written back. Other students have emailed the university about this and have also heard nothing. I am asking on behalf of 2020 and 2021 graduates that you please sign this petition so Roosevelt University hears us and allows their alumni a real ceremony in the future to truly celebrate and acknowledge them. Thank you.

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