Scripps Seniors Face Commencement Challenges, Make Senior Year Their Own

Ellen Hu ‘24
Staff Writer

On March 19, an email was sent to Scripps College’s Class of 2021 with updates about commencement plans. Inside, a subtle message about regalia was overlooked by many students. The caps and gowns would be silver instead of the traditional sage green.

“The silver lining is that you will be able to keep your Scripps silver cap and gown!” the email included under a bullet point about sending commencement regalia to soon-to-be graduates.

“I thought that it was just a typo at that point,” Caroline Wofford ’21 said.

Since March of 2020, Scripps College has maintained a closed campus to students. The Class of 2021, who left as juniors, will not return to campus.

Instead of presenting their thesis in person, students have pre-recorded five minute videos of themselves speaking about their work. Additionally, they must join a Zoom call for a live question and answer session.

“I did spend a lot of time and effort and tears on my thesis,” Katie Simon ’21 said. “ I just wish we had a little more time to ease into it and not cram in so much information to the point where it may be indigestible for some people.”

The college does not plan to hold an in-person commencement ceremony, instead opting for a virtual format. It will be a recorded video published on May 22 and students can watch it asynchronously when it is published.

While Claremont Mckenna College, a member of the Claremont consortium, is planning to do an in-person ceremony, none of the other colleges in the consortium are. The guidelines for the events would allow for the attendance of students located in Southern California and students who would be able to quarantine before the event.

“If Scripps were to do that it would be very exclusionary given that most of the Scripps population isn’t in Southern California,” Simon added.

Still, some students feel like a live virtual ceremony should have been planned. “I don’t blame the school for not having a live ceremony in any way, but a virtual ceremony should have been the bare minimum,” Laura Le ’21 said. “If people didn’t want to attend it wouldn’t cost [the administration] anything to still put it on for the people who do want to attend.”

“Other colleges have made more concrete promises that there is going to be something happening in person eventually, even if it’s in May 2022,” Wofford said. “I would love just some indication that there is going to be something we can look forward to relative to commencement.”

Further issues surrounding the commencement ceremony arose when students who asked to have their diplomas mailed to them in September were opted out of commencement. They did not receive a personalized link where they could upload a selfie and video of themselves to include within the recorded ceremony nor a name pronunciation confirmation.

Students who opted for the mail option were forced to email the Office of Public Events and the registrar to ensure that their names would be said at commencement. Later, the link was redistributed to the entire senior class.

Due to the lack of an in-person commencement, graduating seniors have been mailed several pieces of Scripps regalia including a traditional seafoam green cap and a white gown. The gown color was changed after the senior class presidents approached the administration about the color choice.

“They did not communicate [the silver color choice] with me or Amelia prior to today, so we were blindsided with this news as well,” co-senior class president Alexa Sanchez ’21 wrote in a Facebook post on the Scripps Class of 2021 page on March 19.

In the post, Sanchez explained that the green gowns are only available to rent from the usual vendor that distributes to the college. Unable to find any other vendors who could provide gowns in the correct color, the college decided to go with silver.

“One of the big problems was that we weren’t consulted about it,” Simon said. “I think people were more happy with the final result, the senior class just wants to be included in these conversations because they are about us.”

“I think my biggest issue with this is after four years of going to a school that is constantly talking about creating the next generation of strong women and strong students today, [the administration] completely isolates us in any agency in this process,” Le said.

After bringing up the issue with administration, Sanchez and co-president Amelia Hahn ’21 proposed shipping gowns to students for commencement and having students return the gowns through the mail. In the end, the administration and SAS presidents came to an agreement on white gowns rather than silver.

“While receiving a white gown may come as a disappointment to some of you, please know that we made this decision only after exhausting all feasible options with vendors and discussing those options with the Class of 2021 co-presidents, while taking into consideration feedback from the Class of 2021,” the Office of Public Events and Community Programs wrote in an email to students on April 7.

Students have responded to this choice in different ways. Some have opted to receive the gown while others have not. A few students who wanted their gowns have plans to dye them green while others who did not receive a gown are planning to make their own.

“I shed my tears over not having a [in-person] commencement, but I figure we can’t really change that,” Simon said. “I would rather try to think positively about it and find joy in what it is rather than wallowing in depression and self-pity — I don’t think that benefits me.”

On May 5, seniors received guidelines surrounding on-campus photo permits to take graduation photos. Students will need to reserve a time between Monday and Thursday and the locations are limited to Denison Library Steps and Elm Tree Lawn. During reservations, students must indicate which of these locations they plan to use.

In addition to dealing with issues surrounding caps and gowns, Hahn and Sanchez have attempted to make the senior class feel special. In April, each member of the graduating senior class was sent a box of goodies put together by the two students.

“This was run by two seniors who are also writing theses, who are also in the midst of a pandemic,” Le said. “I was extremely grateful, but then I was also extremely angry that Scripps didn’t even consider doing anything like that.”

In the box, students received a blanket, travel mug, postcard, and stickers. Madison Seto ’21, who owns the Etsy shop Madison Seto Design, designed the postcard and stickers.

While designing the items to be sent out, Seto drew inspiration from “the virtual aspect” of her final year while also wanting to include “some quintessential [Scripps] things.” Her designs highlight elements of Graffiti Wall and Seal Court from the Scripps campus.

Outside of these boxes, Seto took on the challenge of celebrating graduation away from the Scripps community as well. In late March, she announced a Scripps gift set through her Etsy shop that was available for pre-order. The set includes three postcards and five stickers.

“I had no idea what to expect which is why I did it in the pre-order format,” Seto said. “I’m glad I did it that way because the response was way more than I could have ever expected — it was a wild ride!”

The college also plans to attempt to recreate different senior traditions through an online format. Plans for Senior Brunch and Graffiti Wall have yet to be announced.

Still, graduating seniors find themselves disappointed in the transparency of the Scripps administration regarding their last year at the college. “We get that this is a hard situation, but there are a few things that they could have done to help us along the way,” Amalia Barrett ’21 said.

“Where would we be without Amelia and Alexa who take so much time and effort to make sure that we are properly celebrated?” Le said.

Image Source: Scripps College