University students call for a return of in-person graduation events

Dedan Kimathi University

Graduands follow proceedings during the 12th graduation ceremony of Dedan Kimathi University of Technology on May 26, 2022. 

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

For two consecutive years since the Covid-19 pandemic hit, universities and colleges have taken to holding virtual graduations, a first in academic circles that has come to redefine the once hyped celebrations.

For years, graduation ceremonies became synonymous with relatives and friends trooping to institutions of higher learning to cheer kith and kin they received their certificates, diplomas or degrees.

The coronavirus menace changed everything as individuals and organisations had to comply with protocols and guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health to stop the spread of the deadly virus.

Muted cerebrations then shifted to sitting rooms as families followed the proceedings on TV while others did so on mobile phones.

Post-graduation parties also went mute as gatherings were restricted and hotels remained shut for sit-in patrons.

Universities and colleges shifted to virtual graduations out of necessity, so as not to delay the progression of their students.

In-person graduations

Though initially seen as more manageable, in terms of logistics and planning and possibly a new way of doing things, students now feel it is time universities and colleges revert to in-person graduations to give them and their parents a chance to attend, witness and hold celebrations as was the case in the past.

Mercy Chepkemoi, who graduated with a diploma in procurement and logistics from KCA university in November last year, says virtual ceremonies take away the joy that students, their relatives and friends share during such events.

“Our university allowed us to attend the graduation physically but asked parents and other students to follow the ceremony online,” she says.

“Many graduands felt they were denied a lifetime opportunity to join friends and relatives in the celebrations.”

She says it is only during graduation ceremonies that parents, relatives and friends from rural counties get an opportunity to travel and visit the institutions of study, many based in towns.

“My parents, grandparents and many family members hoped to travel to Nairobi and witness my academic achievement. This would have been a rare chance for them to visit the city they only hear of,” she says.

Strategist Lema, who graduated from the University of Nairobi in December last year, says even though the virtual ceremony was a success, a physical one would have been more enjoyable.

“I prefer physical graduation than the virtual one. We would get an opportunity to celebrate with our friends and family,” the Economics and Statistics Masters graduate says.

Planning for a graduation ceremony is never easy.

For Nairobi, Kenyatta, Mt Kenya and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology which have a huge number of students graduating at a time, the ceremonies are always a nightmare for Nairobi and Thika residents as the vehicles to the institutions cause massive jams.

A number of universities and colleges, especially those with fewer students that the above, have resumed in-person graduations.

Among the ones that have held physical graduations are Kenya Institute of Development Studies, Thogoto Teachers Training College and Kenya Institute of Professional Studies.

Virtual graduation

Dedan Kimathi University of Technology, which was the first to hold a virtual graduation in Kenya, also held a physical one last month.

Every student was allowed to invite only guests at the graduation square to avoid crowding.

In its ceremony a week ago, Meru University of Science and Technology only allowed doctorate and the top undergraduate and masters students to attend the graduation physically.

The institution allowed 200 students to attend the physical ceremony.

The other students were allowed to hire gowns and take photos within the university a week to the ceremony but asked to follow the event online.

Unlike 2020, when only vice chancellors, senate members and deans of students were allowed to attend the events, there has been a progressive return to the traditional graduations.

Students hope that with the resumption of physical meetings and national events, including large political and religious gatherings, universities and colleges will eventually resume in-person graduation ceremonies.

Technical University of Kenya Communications director, Ken Ramani, says the institution is yet to resume physical graduations but students are happy with the blended system.

“We have fully adopted the blended system. Students only come to campus for practicals and examinations. Theory units are taught online. Graduations are also being held virtually,” Dr Ramani says.

Co-operative University Communications head, Victor Njogu, says though some students have requested the administration to resume physical graduations, the institution has not made a decision yet.

“Our graduations are still held virtually. Any changes will be communicated in the future,” he says.

Jkuat recently said it would hold graduation this virtually, except for doctoral students.

“Graduands wishing to participate in the ceremony must attend the virtual rehearsal on Thursday June 23 at 10am. PhD graduands will be required to attend the rehearsal in person,” reads a memo from the university.

The university is charging a compulsory graduation fee of Sh5,500 for a PhD student, Sh5,000 for a masters student, Sh4,500 for postgraduate diploma, Sh3,500 for an undergraduate and diploma student and Sh2,000 for certificate.

Every student is further required to pay Sh1,100 alumni fees.

Hiring of gowns has been made optional for students. UoN graduands were required to pay a Sh1,000 convocation fee.

However, students were given an option of hiring gowns, hoods and mortarboard. The university charges Sh3,000 for a gown, Sh500 for a hood and Sh500 for a mortarboard.

Though most universities and colleges have resumed physical learning, UoN and several others are still offering virtual classes for many of their courses.

Masters and PhD students defend their projects and theses online.

As part of the Commission for University Education guidelines, the institutions are required to adopt the Open, Distance and e-Learning system and ensure their courses and programmes are accredited.

Several universities have lined up their graduations in June and July.  The second lot of graduations will be in November and December.

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