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Student experiences on UJ virtual graduations, future opportunity to walk the stage

​Graduation ceremonies provide an opportunity to mark an educational achievement with family and friends. However, for many students who have received their qualifications in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has robbed of them the opportunity to enjoy such moments the traditional way with family and friends at their alma mater.

In embracing the “new normal” way of doing things in this challenging period, the University of Johannesburg (UJ) introduced a unique way of awarding qualifications to graduates using virtual means.

After a successful academic journey at UJ, graduates are on a victory lap following the last 2020 virtual graduation ceremony which was hosted on 19 October 2020 and earlier in May. Despite the turbulence caused by the COVID-19 period, UJ has awarded a total of 14 049 qualifications to individuals who completed their studies from undergraduate to doctoral levels this year. The University conferred 212 doctoral and 976 Master’s degrees as well as 2 196 Postgraduate below Master’s and 10 665 undergraduate qualifications.

The following are the total number of qualifications awarded in each faculty in 2020: FADA 482, College of Business and Economics 5 331, Education 1 051, FEBE 2 879, Health Sciences 1 169, Humanities 1 837, Law 437, Science 863.

When expressing his gratitude and compliments to the graduates, the UJ Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, said, “Congratulations to all our graduates – you have not only made yourselves and your families proud, but your communities and our University alike.”

Prof Marwala added that, “Due to government restrictions on public gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic, UJ has awarded these qualifications in absentia via a virtual graduation ceremony. However, knowing that a graduation ceremony is such a momentous occasion in a student’s life, the University plans to organise an in-person celebration for our graduates as soon as mass gatherings are permitted, with due consideration for measures to fight the spread of COVID-19 infections. More details will be shared with you in the near future.”

Below, graduates share their experiences and what it means to them for receiving their qualifications at UJ during the COVID-19 pandemic:

Screenshot 2020 11 06 At 11.28.41Phathutshedzo Khangale

Graduating virtually was a first-time experience for many of us and personally I was excited. I still feel it would have been more exciting if the graduation ceremony was on campus and family members and friends could have joined to celebrate my achievement. Using the app was easy and straight forward. The only thing I was not so impressed with, is that all graduates used the same graduation gowns which I think we should have been given options to choose gowns based on our qualifications. I was expecting to have an option to choose a red gown as I was graduating for a PhD but that was not the case.

Screenshot 2020 11 06 At 11.31.10Mbali Ngcobo
I didn’t like the virtual graduations as I felt that it took away that precious moment, especially for some of us graduating for the first time. The pictures look fake and I wouldn’t send them to friends or even having them framed. My wish was to really walk on stage and I feel disappointed.

Screenshot 2020 11 06 At 11.35.25Hleko Chauke
The first time I was made aware that we will be graduating virtually, I was curious of how the process will be, even though I was not surprised as everyone was aware of what Covid-19 did to our normal ways of doing things. I found graduating virtually more organised, especially the digital certificate website and student portal that gave me instant access to the electronic certificate and the academic record. In future, the virtual graduation can be improved to be more interactive and live.

The virtual app was okay and quite easy to use, it gave a good virtual tour of the university which is great. It also allowed us to have our graduation memories, however, it can be improved by having a variety of gowns specific to a course instead of having one universal gown.

Screenshot 2020 11 10 At 10.28.34Chris Rojas
Graduating virtually felt underwhelming and impersonal. I was anticipating a joyful day of cheering on fellow classmates and feeling a sense of acknowledgment, having worked so hard over the past two years. My classmates did create a virtual ceremony amongst ourselves to celebrate the day. It may be good idea to allow the graduates of 2020 to attend next year’s ceremony and to graduate on stage in groupings. The virtual app worked fine and was an okay fix for those looking to edit themselves into the campus. The app didn’t attempt to take itself too seriously and I believed was used more light-heartedly for social media profile pictures than for those actually wanting to print out and frame their photos.

Screenshot 2020 11 06 At 11.36.06Abigail Moloto

I was looking forward to my Master’s graduation, until the pandemic hit South Africa. The thought of the possibility of not graduating was terrifying. When I heard that UJ planned the virtual graduation, that was it, the moment I have been waiting for. I was curious on how they plan to do the virtual graduations. Technology has indeed made the world go around, students were able to take graduation pictures from the comfort of their homes and had access to both electronic academic records and certificates. This honestly made life easier for us as graduates to continue applying for jobs with updated profiles during the pandemic. I only got disappointed when I realised that the gowns and belts were the same for everyone, I think this is something UJ can work on to improve in future.

Screenshot 2020 11 06 At 11.36.13Liam Wepener

I felt the way we were told we could graduate was a good intention on behalf of UJ but, misguided in its realisation. It was severely underwhelming as the graduation ceremony is such a prestigious event for celebrating an accomplishment that few people have the capacity to endure and actually attain. I wish the university had rather waited, instead of rushing to the first solution that dropped on their desk. We don’t know how the world will behave post COVID-19, but I for one would have been more than willing to wait for a true in-person ceremony because those are special.

I stopped half way in using the virtual graduation app, simply because anyone can Photoshop their face on a graduating body, especially after spending 4 years at FADA. Nothing compares to walking up that stage where the Dean of your Faculty calls your name and the kneeling down to be academically accepted into the Alumni group. That is quite special, where hundreds of family members of your friends and fellow graduates who have seen what one has to endure to stand there, witness your graduation. I feel truly sorry for those who hadn’t experienced that moment before.

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