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Virtual 2020 Commencement controversy

<p>Miami previews its &quot;one-of-a-kind&quot; virtual commencement experience. </p>

Miami previews its "one-of-a-kind" virtual commencement experience.

Last week, Miami University released a preview image of the class of 2020’s virtual commencement on Instagram which raised mixed reactions and had some students questioning if the university was taking the ceremony seriously. 

“Very underwhelming. I would think Miami could do better,” one comment read. 

“This is just really bad. Not much else to say,” read another. 

Ariana Smith, a senior architecture major, said that within minutes of the post, she and her senior housemates were “furious.”

“We worked really hard over the last four years and this is a really big deal for some of us,” Smith said. “I expected President Crawford to put on a suit and Governor DeWine to give us a nice speech over Zoom, where we could all wear our caps and gowns in our living rooms at a safe distance, rather than it feel like a virtual video game.”

Smith said when she sent the image to her mom, her mom “broke down in tears.”

“I’m going to be the only kid in my family to go to college,” Smith said. “Although we know that it had to be canceled, it almost seemed disrespectful with the way they were handling it.”

While the comments under the post were overwhelmingly negative, some users commented in defense of the preview. 

Miami University Student Body President Jaylen Perkins took to Twitter to speak positively about the virtual commencement. 

“From my understanding, we’ll also have the opportunity to network and connect with each other via this software following the ceremonies,” Perkins wrote in a statement to The Miami Student. “I think it’s really cool that we gave an alumni the opportunity to showcase their product.” 

According to a news release from Miami, the university collaborated with alum Austin Mace and his team at Subvrsive, an immersive innovation studio, to create a ‘video-game-like’ experience. 

Austin Mace graduated in 2015 with an Interactive Media Studies Degree and went on to found Subvrsive.

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“What we were able to create for Miami is very much in the spirit of what [Miami] has to offer,” Mace said. “It has been a really challenging but also exciting project to work on and bring to life for the class of 2020.”

Carole Johnson, director of university news and communication, wrote in a statement, “Through creative and innovative thinking, a team of alumni, staff, faculty, and students designed this virtual event experience to honor each student, and be enjoyed by graduates, family, friends and alumni all across the world.”

Smith said she was planning on attending the virtual graduation until she saw the plans this morning. Now, she’s unsure. 

Smith added it would be hard for her to make it to the in-person graduation in September.

“Right now, I have a lot of sick family members, so in September, we’re hoping to host a lot of funerals, because right now, we haven't been able to have any of those,” Smith said. 

Mace said he has seen the comment section of Miami’s post. 

“The Miami community is so unique and diverse and different, and we really wanted to leave [the avatars] up to the mind’s imagination of what one could be in this experience,” Mace said. “We didn’t want people to get bogged down on the customization of what your appearance would look like in this environment.”