Spring quarter has been nothing if not disappointing. Students must be numb from hearing about cancellation after cancellation, including in-person instruction for spring and summer quarters, Spring Splash and business closures. As of April 21, even in-person commencement ceremonies have been canceled. While it is possible spring 2020 commencement may still happen at a later date, many campuses across the nation have decided to hold an online commencement ceremony to honor graduates until something more conventional can be planned and carried out. While any online platform will be prone to chaos and present equity concerns, some are better and more appropriate than others. To keep commencement as respectful, easy and equitable as possible, the platform for online commencement should be Zoom.
It is understandable that UCR students may feel a certain animosity toward Zoom. It is the symbol of all that has been taken from us — it is the pith of the pandemic. Ironically, it is this very familiarity with Zoom that also makes it all the more better of an option. While the learning curve was steep, Zoom is a platform that all UCR students, faculty and staff now have experience using. Training the individuals who have the responsibility of making commencement work, as well as student participants, in the usage of a new platform and expecting everything to work out while a familiar alternative like Zoom exists is foolish.
Less professional formats, such as “Minecraft,” “Animal Crossing” or “Roblox,” have been discussed as possible formats for an online commencement. While these services may be fun and versatile, all of them present insurmountable issues for large-scale events such as commencements. First, there is the issue of connectivity. “Roblox” has a hard cap of 100 people that can be in a single server at once, “Animal Crossing” maxes out at a total of nine players and while “Minecraft” can theoretically support many more players than the other two games, bandwidth will become a major issue as well as the necessity for more expensive ”Minecraft” online play packs and computers with impressive RAM to support so many players. Zoom has much higher limits, supporting up to 1,000 individuals at once.
The next issue with video games as a platform for commencement is one of equity. Both “Minecraft” and “Animal Crossing” are behind paywalls to play the games. Students who do not have the games already will be forced to purchase them to participate. While students have to make purchases of caps and gowns to attend in-person commencements, the purchasing of a video game would also place financial burden on any family member who is not in the room with the student, as they would have to purchase their own copy of the game to view the ceremony. The university has already purchased Zoom and anyone with the link will be able to view for free.
Finally, video games are a poor choice for online commencement as they may be perceived as unprofessional by students, faculty and family members alike. Gamers must be aware that not everyone, not even every student, shares this particular interest and may be quite turned off by the idea of a graduation being performed by pixels. Many may see it as more of an insult than an online commencement already is. Zoom is a neutral, businesslike format that would not prompt as much backlash as “Minecraft” might.
An online commencement is going to be bad, that is unavoidable, but it is the duty of the university administration to make it as pleasant and user-friendly as possible. Zoom, more than any other format, offers an equitable, professional and familiar alternative to the in-person honor graduating students have been denied. If commencement must be through a screen, it only makes sense to have it on Zoom.