Stories about the coronavirus pandemic are free to read as a public service at tampabay.com/coronavirus. Sign up for our DayStarter newsletter to receive updates weekday mornings. If this coverage is important to you, consider supporting local journalism by subscribing to the Tampa Bay Times at tampabay.com/subscribe.
• • •
Florida college kids saw it coming. It was only a matter of time before officials canceled upcoming graduation ceremonies because of the coronavirus pandemic, but grappling with that news Tuesday was hard.
It came quietly, trickling through social media without any big announcement from the State University System, whose Board of Governors made the call. Now, tens of thousands of students are mourning the sudden death of their senior year.
"Traditional on-campus commencement ceremonies will not be held in May,” read a note on the state system website. “Instead, each university is directed to develop an alternate schedule or method of delivery.”
Also on Tuesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced during a news conference that four students at the University of Florida, including one who traveled internationally, have been found to have the virus. He urged students there, as did UF president Kent Fuchs, to leave campus, if possible.
During the same news conference, the governor ordered that all Florida universities continue online-only instruction through the end of the spring semester. The move to remote learning had previously been temporary, but DeSantis suggested a permanent mandate would encourage more students to relocate.
By late Tuesday afternoon, none of Florida’s largest public universities had finalized any new plans for graduation. Communications officials for UF, the University of South Florida, the University of Central Florida and Florida State University said their institutions are working through the situation.
Students, meanwhile, are just plain sad.
Danielle Oberle, a 22-year-old advertising senior at UF, cried when she learned graduation won’t happen. She said she found out from a news story on social media rather than from the university.
“We all saw it coming, from like a mile away,” she said. “But just knowing that it’s finally actually canceled is hard, because our entire last senior semester is over. ... It’s something you look forward to your whole time at university."
UF spokesman Steve Orlando said the school is working to make new plans, which will be announced at a “later date.” The university will continue online instruction through the start of the summer term, using the Zoom service, in which professors give their lessons live and students can ask questions from their remote sites. Professors continue to have “office hours," only not in person, Orlando said.
Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines
Subscribe to our free DayStarter newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
The University of Central Florida announced the news about graduation in a tweet, citing “deep sadness” over the cancellation. “We know this is a special day for our Knights and their families,” it read, “and we are looking into how and when we can best provide that experience to our spring graduates.”
Trevor Wild, a 21-year-old public administration senior at UCF, called the news “very depressing" but not surprising. He’s disappointed that he won’t get to walk the graduation stage but more so that he will miss the last three months of “just being a college kid."
He worries, too, about the strength of the job market he and his classmates are entering. The coronavirus is having extreme effects on the economy, prompting feelings of uncertainty for soon-to-be graduates, Wild said.
“The implications of this go on and on,” he added. “The entire experience of college was flipped around in a matter of a week. ... How do you take a final exam when a global pandemic is going on?”
Students at FSU are troubled by the cancellation, too, said political science senior Chris Klaban, 23. On top of that, local businesses in Leon County are worried about losing out on the out-of-town customers graduation usually draws.
Klaban said a joke is going around that students will receive diplomas from “Zoom university,” a nod to the program the school and others are using to offer remote instruction. Another joke is that the coronavirus has made it so they’ve only spent 3.67 years at FSU, not four.
“Everyone is on the same wavelength,” he said. “Nobody is happy. ... I’m definitely upset, but I understand why we have to do this.”
The University of South Florida put out a statement late Tuesday afternoon, calling commencement a “vital element of the university community and an important milestone in the lives of students and their families.”
The university said it is working to “develop creative alternative solutions, including the possibility of expanding August ceremonies to include spring graduates.”
But that likely won’t work for USF St. Petersburg senior Sarah Vinson, she said. She has a full-time job lined up in Orlando starting in June and doesn’t expect to be able to travel back for a rescheduled graduation ceremony.
“I was excited to celebrate such a great achievement earlier in my life,” the 19-year-old said. “I walked out of class on Friday not knowing that it would be the last time. I worked real hard to get here.”
• • •
Tampa Bay Times coronavirus coverage
EVENT CANCELLATIONS: Get the latest updates on events planned in the Tampa Bay area in the coming weeks.
STORES REACT TO VIRUS: Some businesses adjust hours or announce temporary closings.
STOCK UP YOUR PANTRY: Foods that should always be in your kitchen, for emergencies and everyday life.
JOIN THE FACEBOOK GROUP: See updates and tips posts, and ask questions of our journalists.
LISTEN TO THE CORONAVIRUS PODCAST: New episodes every week, including interviews with experts and reporter.
HAVE A TIP?: Send us confidential news tips.
We’re working hard to bring you the latest news on the coronavirus in Florida. This effort takes a lot of resources to gather and update. If you haven’t already subscribed, please consider buying a print or digital subscription.