Northwestern University in Qatar’s Class of 2021 will have a fully virtual graduation ceremony, according to a combined email sent on April 4 by Kathleen Hewett-Smith, senior associate dean and chief academic officer, and Indee Thotawattage, interim director of Student Affairs. The graduation ceremony is scheduled for May 3.
“The recent announcements from the Ministry of Public Health, as well as the Ministry’s recent rejection of our request to hold an in-person graduation, however, make clear that we must now hold a fully virtual graduation ceremony,” the email stated.
The announcement was sent a few days after Marwan Kraidy, dean and CEO of NU-Q, told graduating students that the final decision was only “a matter of days” away in a recent town hall meeting. However, the in-person graduation plan would depend on the Ministry of Public Health’s protocols and vaccination status, he added.
The decision to cancel in-person graduation has raised disappointment among the graduating class.
“Of course, we are all, as a collective batch, disappointed by the decision to cancel graduation and have it been virtual, but we also understand the necessity of doing what needs to be done to protect ourselves and the people around us,” said Hamad Alfayhani, NU-Q Student Union president and graduating senior.
Muhammad Sikandar Ali Chaudary, a senior, also acknowledged the necessity of the decision. “You really need to explain how graduation is more important than the lives at risk. You know workers will have to arrange everything and it will put them at risk as well apart from students.”
Though, Al Maha Al-Buainain, another graduating senior, lamented that a fully virtual graduation will not be as celebratory as in-person graduation. “When I think of a graduation ceremony, I always imagined students walking up the stage, taking a picture, and getting their certificates. It feels like this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity has been stolen away from us due to the unforeseen COVID-19 circumstances,” she said.
She, as well as other graduating students, said they thought the administration could have looked for alternatives before sending out the email.
“Other solutions can be considered, such as postponing the graduation till the cases get fewer or until the situation is more stable. A mandatory COVID-19 test could have been an excellent option to ensure everyone’s safety during the ceremony. The announcement should have addressed the possibility of having face-to-face graduation. It was vague in that aspect,” Al-Buainain added.
Mohamed Eltayeb, another member of the class of 2021, echoed Al Buainain’s sentiments. “As a senior, it feels like we weren’t a part of any conversations this entire year. There’s been no transparency or an attempt to include students’ voices in any form or way; it’s as if we were just supposed to assume that no events will happen,” he said.
Some seniors have since sent out an email in response, proposing measures that can be taken to have in-person graduation.
In response, NU-Q confirmed graduation will still be virtual. “We plan to go ahead with our virtual May graduation but also look forward to developing an in-person celebration in the future, after the summer period has ended and the new academic year has begun,” read the reply.
Alfayhani expressed his optimism regarding a possible approach to make graduation more in person. “My hope would be to have graduation once the cases go down. Hopefully, by then, the majority of our batch and the university faculty and staff will be vaccinated,” he said.
Chaudary, however, expressed how a ceremony in the future will be difficult for international students to attend. “If it happens, most probably, I won’t be able to attend it. I won’t only come for the in-person graduation to Qatar. If I am already in the country, I will show up.”
But students are hopeful for when cases go down again. “I hope the batch of 2021 and 2020 get the graduation ceremony that they all deserve,” added Al-Buainain.