University of Houston Clear Lake students pushing for in-person graduation

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The University of Houston Clear Lake's decision to hold a virtual-only commencement ceremony is being met with backlash.

A petition online has garnered more than a thousand signatures. Students said they want the college to hold an in-person option to celebrate the students' success.

Erica Solis started the call for change. She said university leaders made the decision without student input and announced it in an email. Now the students want leaders to change their minds.

"We recognize that you may wish to celebrate this accomplishment at a live event and understand that hosting a virtual ceremony is not ideal. Based on research and discussions with university leadership, a virtual ceremony was determined as the best option to protect your health, and make sure all your guests and family can watch your big moment," read part of the university's response.

Solis said it's possible to hold a safe, socially distanced graduation ceremony during the pandemic.

"It literally was thrown at us, I feel in the most just callous way," said Solis. "All of us students have been diligently working to finish the semester strong. We've been through a lot. I get an email. I clicked that. We were told through the registrar's office here at the university that the commencement ceremony would be 100% virtual. That was it."

Lisa Jatta is also a student at UHCL. She said the school should reverse course.

"I really do believe that this university needs to reverse the decision that they've made," said Jatta. "It's been a hell of a year after 2020 and we need some light. This is a beacon of light for a lot of parents, for students, for the whole support system around the UHCL community. So I hope they take this seriously and realize this is something big for their students."

When ABC13 reached out to UHCL for further explanation on their decision-making, the university released the following statement:

"While we miss the opportunity to celebrate in a traditional in-person format, Harris County's COVID-19 Threat Level remains at Level 1. University of Houston-Clear Lake administrators made the difficult decision to hold a virtual commencement ceremony to maintain a safe environment for our graduates, families, faculty, and staff.

UHCL anticipates that we will hold an in-person commencement in fall 2021. Any 2020 or spring 2021 graduate who participated in a virtual commencement ceremony will be offered the opportunity to participate at the next in-person commencement ceremony.

To provide a safe opportunity to honor our graduates' accomplishments this semester, the UHCL Alumni Association will host the Soaring Hawks Car Parade on campus on Sunday, May 16. Graduates can dress in regalia, receive their diploma tube, and drive along a campus route lined with cheering faculty, guests, and staff."

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