AJMAN—In a bid to rescue graduates from online commencement ceremonies, Ajman University, in the United Arab Emirates, is offering students a novel drive-through approach.
It ensures they still get to enjoy the ceremonial trimmings like the cap and gown, and it allows them some semblance of an in-person event, though they still have to take precautions like wearing masks and getting tested for the coronavirus within three days before the event.
On the day of their ceremony, graduates are driven onto the campus in cars, along with supportive of family members. The graduates sit in the passenger seat and are able to step out of the car to walk the red carpet and receive their certificates from Ajman University’s chancellor, Karim Seghir, while posing for the momentous graduation-day photograph with him.
Seghir said it was important to try and offer some sense of ceremony for the students after what has been a challenging year. “Receiving the graduation certificate on campus is not just a symbolic gesture but an intrinsic part of the student experience at the university,” he said.
Shatha Mohammed, 22, is one of the graduates going through the four days of ceremonies this week. The mass communications graduate said the lack of a traditional graduation ceremony has been a tough thing to accept. “At first, I was a little bit sad because we all look forward to doing the cap-and-gown experience, but I always try my best to see the good in everything, no matter how sad it may seem,” she said.
“At first, I was a little bit sad because we all look forward to doing the cap-and-gown experience, but I always try my best to see the good in everything, no matter how sad it may seem.”Shatha Mohammed
One of the graduates
A Sudanese national born in the Emirates, Mohammed is trying to reframe the drive-through experience as unique, and she says it still beats an online graduation like many students around the world are having to accept.
Mahmoud Bahgat, 23, is graduating with a master’s in pharmacy. He too, says the drive-through graduation offers a better alternative than online. “I think it’s a great idea but it doesn’t replace the physical attendance of being a graduate and celebrating it with your friends and family,” said Bahgat. “Now you just sit with your family in the car, driving to take your certificate and that’s it. But you have to go and we have no other solution.”
Bahgat, an Egyptian born in the Emirates, is grateful to be in a country where employment prospects in his field are positive. “There are a lot of opportunities, and we are getting called out right now as the country needs us,” he said, not least in the midst of a global pandemic.
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His speciality, clinical pharmacy, is not recognized back in Egypt, even though hospitals still require clinical pharmacists to follow up with physicians. So he says he is acutely aware of his advantages of living in the Emirates, where opportunities are more abundant.
“There is more diversity here,” Bahgat explained. “If a pharmacist graduated, he could go to a forensic section, he can go to a hospital section, he can go to a community pharmacy section, he can go to the research field. There’s a lot, a lot of choices you wouldn’t have in Egypt,” he said.
Shatha Mohammed, however, has been adding online courses to her repertoire since the pandemic hit, to expand her skill set and bolster her credentials for jobs in the future. With a degree in mass communications, she said, passion and skills are not enough in a competitive market already hit by the recession. “I joined Toastmasters International a few months ago and it’s really helping me a lot in so many ways,” she said.
Ajman University’s graduation ceremony marks a tough year for both students, as for all students internationally. There is a sense that the pandemic has stolen many of the normal freedoms and rites of passage, which had to be experienced in the only ways available.
“To be honest, it was rough,” said Bahgat, whose work in the research field depends on face-to-face meetings to gather qualitative data. “The online thing could never replace physical attendance.”
The drive-through ceremony is a good idea for a number of reasons, says Sarah Rasmi, licensed psychologist and managing director of Thrive Wellbeing Centre. She stresses the importance of students having something to commemorate an accomplishment like graduating.
“Doing it online is an acknowledgement and can be helpful, but a lot of people have really got online fatigue after the amount of time we’ve spent online over the last year,” she said. “So doing something in person can make it feel a little more special and make us feel more connected. Even just seeing a queue of cars can help and add to that feeling of celebration and satisfaction.”