Students prepare for first fully in-person graduation at Watsco Center in two years

The Watsco Center pictured during 2019 Spring Graduation.
The Watsco Center pictured during 2019 Spring Graduation.

On Friday May 13, 2022, University of Miami students will take the stage at the annual Spring Commencement Ceremony for the culmination of their career at the university.

Unlike the 2020 and 2021 classes, however, this year’s graduating students will be the first to celebrate commencement at the Watsco Center since before the pandemic, which caused UM to shift the 2021 commencement to Hard Rock Stadium and 2020 to an entirely online format.

The ceremony will follow the university’s COVID-19 regulations with the stipulation that attending graduates may only invite six guests. Remaining loved ones may livestream the event through the Office of Commencement’s website.

The ceremony begins at 8:30 a.m with students from the College of Arts and Sciences.

Students from the School of Architecture, School of Communication, Frost School of Music, School of Nursing and Health Studies and the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS) will follow at 1:00 p.m., while students graduating from the Business school and Engineering begin commencement at 5:30 p.m.

For many students, the day will mark a bittersweet milestone in their academic journey.

“The bitter part is that we missed out on a year,” said Oliver Zenou, an entrepreneurship and real estate double major. “The sweet part is starting a new adventure, the next chapter of my life.”

Ishaan Chatterjee, a graduating microbiology and immunology major and commencement speaker for the College of Arts and Sciences, echoed Zenou’s comments, adding that senior year served as a welcome but all-too-short return to normality.

“I think some of that has to do with COVID coming in and changing the way that we operated as college students, but it also has to do with the fact that this year was one of the more normal years we’ve had,” Chatterjee said.

Students graduating after four years experienced the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic during the spring of their sophomore year before shifting to virtual learning for most of their junior year and a return to campus for their senior year.

The Watsco Center served as the traditional venue for commencement for years before the pandemic forced a change in routine.

This semester, students will once again make the walk from their seat at the Watsco Center to the stage for their diplomas. The ceremony will be preceded by processions from participating faculty and administrators before concluding with UM’s Alma Mater and a recessional.

While hosting the event at Hard Rock Stadium made social distancing easier for attendees, students expressed discontent over its long distance from campus,which forced visiting families to travel over 20 miles from Coral Gables to attend.

The Watsco Center is conveniently located on campus and has a capacity of 8,000.

Regardless, most students are happy to be in Watsco and take this next step towards normalcy, as they finish their career at UM and eye the next stage of their lives.

“Senior year is a lot of little steps leading up to this big moment, where we finally say, ‘alright, we’re on to the next phase in our lives,’” Chatterjee said. “Miami has been a huge part of my life now for four years. I know I’m ready to take my next steps but I think I’ll definitely miss it and a lot of my fondest memories in my lifetime have been here.”