With President Harvey Stenger’s March 26 announcement that Binghamton University’s 2020 commencement ceremony would be postponed indefinitely, many students are left wondering what to do with their previously purchased graduation caps and gowns.
Given that New York state is the current coronavirus hotspot in the nation with more than 52,000 cases, University officials made the right call in postponing this year’s commencement, however disappointing the decision may be. Unfortunately, communication on the subject has been either spotty or mixed, with Stenger’s initial announcement stating “it is my greatest hope that we will be able to hold our ceremonies at a later date,” and a recent video announcement indicating the postponed ceremony is certain to happen at a different point. The uncertainty about when commencement will happen, if at all, has made it difficult for students to judge whether it’s worth dropping close to $100 on caps and gowns that might never see the light of day, and whether those who already have purchased their graduation gear wasted their money.
This is especially true for students who, because of coronavirus shutdowns, may face financial insecurity from losing their jobs. Many of the part-time jobs students worked to assist in paying bills and fees for their education are not the kinds of jobs that can easily transition into an online format, and many have simply been unable to work during the crisis. These are also students who will almost certainly not see the benefits of the recent federal stimulus package, which excludes dependents in the 18- to 24-year-old age group from claiming the federal funds allocated to many other Americans in their time of need.
In an attempt to assuage these concerns, the University sent out a survey over the weekend to graduating students that offers a range of potential dates for their postponed commencement. While this was certainly a good idea, the options are limited to late summer and early fall — a time when many students will be attending graduate school or starting their new jobs. The deadline for purchasing a cap and gown had also been extended to April 30, but with no official decisions made, most graduating students already bought their attire by the previous deadline of March 24. The announcement regarding the postponement of commencement comes with especially poor timing, just two days after the previous deadline. It is also worth noting that the the extension for cap and gown purchases was not explicitly advertised to students, even though a cap and gown is required by the University to walk at commencement ceremonies.
Supposing that the date for the postponed commencement is ideal for most graduates, those who cannot attend should not be forced to lose their money because of circumstances out of their control. It’s hard enough on the graduating body to accept that they might never get the chance to walk at commencement after years of hard work, so why should Herff Jones and the University keep their cap and gown money on top of that?
Although there are, as of yet, no confirmed decisions on the matter, there’s reason to believe that BU’s administration is aware of the complexity of the situation. It’s been suggested that the University is looking into how they might go about refunding students for their cap and gown purchases. With the insurmountable factors at play this semester, the Editorial Board believes the University and Herff Jones should offer refunds to all who bought a cap and gown. A less ideal but still plausible alternative is to waive cap and gown requirements for graduation, though we understand that may lead to a huge, unprecedented break in commencement tradition.
In either case, cap and gown prices have only become more difficult to afford, and with the future commencement up in the air, it might mean it’s time to return the tassel.