October 21, 2021

In-person celebration

SUNY Cortland holds grad-walk event for students

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

SUNY Cortland senior Rick Chastine, right, elbow bumps college President Erik Bitterbaum on Wednesday at Lusk Field House. Most events leading to the college’s commencement are virtual this year, but students got to celebrate Wednesday with the president and other faculty during a graduation-walk event. The event continues today.

In the relatively quiet Lusk Field House at SUNY Cortland, graduating senior Rick Chastine made his way around the outside track Wednesday, stopping at stations and getting filmed while celebrating with President Erik Bitterbaum.

While the past year and half has marked a different college experience than what he was used to, Chastine was happy to take part in some in-person festivities.

“It’s kind of nice because I kind of didn’t feel very special about this kind of COVID graduation, but it definitely feels festive in here,” he said.

Though SUNY Cortland will once again have a virtual commencement Saturday, students got the chance Wednesday, and will again today, to celebrate their achievements with SUNY Cortland faculty and staff in the graduation-walk event. The event was part of a weeklong celebration leading up to Saturday.

Students entered the field house wearing their cap and gowns, had their names read out loud and got to elbow-bump with Bitterbaum on a live stream. The stream was shown on a dedicated 2021 commencement page.

Other virtual events leading up to commencement include:

  • A virtual toast to seniors.
  • Taking selfies with digital Cortland backgrounds.
  • A competition for decorating caps.

“I think we made the right decision not having a large commencement,” Bitterbaum said.

On the web

To view the livestream of the graduation walk, go to tinyurl.com/d5t2tbjn

The decision was made in part as a way to prevent spread of COVID-19, he said, although easing restrictions allowed for Wednesday’s graduation-walk event.

“We learned this year we could do a little more, but we just didn’t feel comfortable doing a massive ceremony,” he said. “Next year, if everything goes the way we’re hoping, we will.”

Losing an in-person graduation for the second year in a row will hurt restaurants and bars, said Tammy Timmerman, the president of the Cortland County Tavern and Restaurant Association.

“Graduation weekend is one of the biggest weekends for restaurants in Cortland,” she said.

Business has been picking up for restaurants and bars as restrictions loosen but other obstacles — such as state required 6-feet spacing of tables — have arisen.

Timmerman said she hopes restaurants can get some sales back as parents help students move out of residence halls and off-campus housing.

Chastine said having gone to college and soon to graduate — during the pandemic has made him appreciate the way life was before the pandemic.

“Now things are definitely not the same,” he said. “I don’t know if things will ever be the same, and kind of wish we could just go back to that normalcy.”

Still, he said he thought his senior year was better than the end of his junior year when the pandemic first hit as in-person classes were more common, making it not “like a ghost town here.”