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Commencement postponed: Hancock College students disappointed, but opt for in-person ceremony
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Commencement postponed: Hancock College students disappointed, but opt for in-person ceremony

The moment Tyler Little had to tell his family in Ohio they should not come to his Hancock College commencement was a "gut punch." 

This year's commencement was postponed, college administrators announced Tuesday, after they received feedback showing a majority of students don't want a virtual ceremony. 

More than 1,700 students graduating with degrees and 1,200 students earning a certificate were scheduled to be honored during the May 29 commencement for Hancock's 99th class.

Little, who worked closely with college administration in his role as president of the Associated Student Body Government (ASBG) to create opportunities for student feedback, said many students expressed the importance of having an in-person ceremony, even if it required pushing it farther into the future. 

Like many students, however, Little felt the disappointment of knowing his family would not see him graduate as planned.

"They were kind of bummed, because I'm the first one in my family to graduate with a degree, so that would have been cool for them to see," Little said.

In the college's Tuesday announcement, President Dr. Kevin Walthers said the college will pursue a potential in-person ceremony in August.

"The students were loud and clear: a virtual celebration has limited appeal, and receiving a diploma in person is important to students, their family, and their community. So the challenge for Hancock is to create an experience that honors students' wishes while keeping everyone safe," Walthers said. 

Heidi Mendiola, ASBG student trustee and a soon-to-be graduate studying administration of justice, said the commencement delay is disappointing but ultimately the best choice for students.

“My family and I are saddened that we couldn’t get the graduation we had planned for this spring. However, I am extremely happy that Allan Hancock College is making an effort to still have graduation despite it being postponed. I know that the first priority for the college is having the staff and students safety come first. I’m hoping for the best, and I know that Hancock's decision to postpone graduation is the right decision,” Mendiola said. 
The college is hoping to hold the ceremony before fall classes begin Aug. 17, and will release more details as options become clearer.

"We are watching what other colleges are doing nationwide for ideas that we can adapt here at Hancock," Walthers said in his announcement. 

Other local community colleges have pursued various options for spring commencement, with Santa Barbara City College holding a virtual ceremony on May 8 and Cuesta College postponing its ceremony to Dec. 18.

Ronaldo Rendon, another soon-to-be Hancock graduate studying administration of justice and ASBG executive vice president, said an eventual in-person ceremony is much better than not having one at all.

"For me, it’s really cool to get a commencement even if it’s a little later since I’m not moving right away," he said.

Local high schools have also adjusted their graduation plans for seniors, scheduling virtual commencements and drive-through diploma receptions in place of in-person ceremonies. 

On Monday, Hancock also announced the potential for classes to continue remotely in the fall, based on recommendations from a coalition of faculty, administrators, staff and student representatives. 

The recommendations will be considered by additional governing bodies including the College Council and Academic Senate, and if approved, will be passed to the board of trustees for a final decision June 9.

Laura Place covers city government for the Santa Maria Times.

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Santa Maria City Reporter

Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Laura Place covers city government, policy and elections in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara County. Follow her on Twitter @itslaurasplace

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