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Cap and gown still a popular option for Ohio State’s virtual commencement

Campus bookstore helps meet demand from parents and students

For thousands of students at The Ohio State University, this week should have ended in a crowded celebration inside Ohio Stadium. Instead, because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the risk of spreading disease in large gatherings, Ohio State is hosting a virtual commencement May 3 for the class of 2020.

The virtual commencement doesn’t mean students and their families are forgoing the traditions of commencement. Instead, they are taking graduation photos, planning small parties and investing in the defining symbol of the conclusion of a college career: the cap and gown.

Madge Connelley is one of those parents making the best of the new normal. Her son, Damien, is a fourth-year operations management major in the Fisher College of Business. As the response to the pandemic expanded, she knew a live commencement was in jeopardy.

“We knew [a virtual commencement] was probably going to happen, but until the announcement is made, you don’t realize how much it’s going to affect you,” she said. “Any kid starting out at Ohio State looks at that stadium and wants to graduate in the ’Shoe. That’s a big, exciting part of the graduation ceremony.

“So obviously, it’s very disappointing. You wanted the pictures; you wanted the experience for them. As much as I do believe Ohio State made the correct decision, and I don’t think there's any other decision you can make at this time, it’s disheartening for sure,” she said.

Connelley quickly worked to reorganize the celebration for Damien. It would mean a smaller party for family and friends, but she was still working to keep some tradition alive.

“I knew we needed to get that cap and gown so we could get some photos. My son will be moving to Denver at the end of May and he may not be able to participate in whatever may come later,” she said. “We will still be celebrating on that day.”

Connelley is also an administrator for the Ohio State University Parents site on Facebook. She said many parents had questions about graduation – the biggest being whether or not to get a cap and gown and where to find them.

Connelley reached out to the Barnes & Noble-The Ohio State University Bookstore to see if it could help her and parents like her. The university bookstore was closed for the safety of staff and customers, but it didn’t stop staff from taking orders over the phone and online.

“Once Ohio State announced the date for a virtual commencement, then it became crazy,” said Kathy Smith, general manager of the bookstore. “People, whether it was the student themselves or their parents, wanted to order regalia for their students to wear for the ceremony.”

Smith and a small staff started processing dozens of orders per day before switching to an online vendor to handle the thousands of orders that started coming in. Smith said nearly 70% of Ohio State candidates have purchased or rented regalia for the Virtual Commencement.

For parents like Connelley, the effort to process and ship graduation attire was met with appreciation and relief.

“They did a fantastic job,” she said. “Their communication was perfect. We received the cap and gown two days from the day I ordered it.”

Connelley now has photos of her son dressed for graduation from Ohio State. It’s a slight return to normal in a time that has been anything but.

“I think people are so happy that they were able to get the cap and gown for their student to make their commencement special in some way,” Smith said. “Since [commencement] is going to be so different, I think they were grateful that we were able to do this for them as well.”

Ohio State will hold a virtual commencement on May 3 with Apple CEO Tim Cook delivering the commencement address. The livestreamed event will begin at noon and can be viewed here. A pre-ceremony program with special messages from students, deans and university leaders from across the university will begin at 11:30 a.m.

The university will plan and hold an in-person celebration for members of the spring Class of 2020, their families and guests at a time that is both safe and practical. Members of the Class of 2020 will be actively involved in the scheduling and planning of that event.

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