Hong Kong universities move cautiously with graduation ceremonies amid Covid-19 anxiety, with some holding events online

Rachel Yeo
·5-min read

Rita Lam completed her accountancy degree at City University last year, but the 25-year-old is still waiting for her graduation ceremony.

It should have happened last November, but was cancelled because of anti-government protests.

“I had already bought my graduation gown and my friends got flowers for me,” she recalled. “My mother even took a day off, but in the end, she couldn’t take pictures with me in school.”

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The ceremony was rescheduled for March, but the Covid-19 pandemic got in the way.

If the ceremony is cancelled yet again, I’ll just forget it. It’s been a year, and I no longer feel like a fresh graduate

Rita Lam, City University accounting graduate

Now she is hoping she will be third time lucky, as the university is planning in-person ceremonies for 2019 and 2020 graduates between January and February next year. In light of social-distancing measures, graduates can only invite up to two guests, and Lam hopes her mother and boyfriend can attend.

“If the ceremony is cancelled yet again, I’ll just forget it,” she said. “It’s been a year, and I no longer feel like a fresh graduate.”

With the Covid-19 situation fluctuating over the past few months, Hong Kong universities have been proceeding cautiously in organising congregation ceremonies. Some are going ahead with in-person events, while others have decided to do it online.

Elaine Soh Hong Yuan, a Singaporean film graduate from HKBU, was hoping her family and friends would be able to come for her graduation. Photo: Handout
Elaine Soh Hong Yuan, a Singaporean film graduate from HKBU, was hoping her family and friends would be able to come for her graduation. Photo: Handout

Polytechnic University and the Open University of Hong Kong are planning in-person events.

Open University’s ceremonies will be held at Queen Elizabeth Stadium in Wan Chai on November 23 and early next month, with no more than 1,200 people at each session. Graduates will be allowed to invite family and friends, a spokesperson said.

The University of Hong Kong (HKU), Baptist University (HKBU) and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) are not taking chances and will hold online ceremonies this month and next.

Chinese University, which initially planned in-person ceremonies from November 19 to 21, has just switched to holding them online. School officials pointed to the number of untraceable Covid-19 cases in the past two weeks, particularly in Tai Po and Sha Tin, near its campus.

Hong Kong Baptist University is one of the local schools that has decided to hold online ceremonies this month and next. Photo: Winson Wong
Hong Kong Baptist University is one of the local schools that has decided to hold online ceremonies this month and next. Photo: Winson Wong

Baptist University and HKUST will display photographs of their graduates during the live online ceremonies. To add a more personal touch, both universities are encouraging students to share their graduation photos on Instagram, using hashtags like #HKBUGRAD and #HKUSTGRAD2020.

HKU is pre-recording its ceremonies, and will include photos showing happy moments of students’ campus life at the beginning and end of the video.

But fresh graduate Yannes Yeung, 23, who studies psychology at HKU, said a virtual ceremony was meaningless to attend, and her disappointed parents had been hoping to witness her milestone in person.

“The only reason I’d attend the graduation ceremony is to go on stage wearing the graduation gown, but now that the ceremony is online, it’s a bit funny and ridiculous,” she said.

Norah Lui said her last semester at Hong Kong Shue Yan University was less memorable than she hoped, as social-distancing measures meant less time spent with friends. Photo: Handout
Norah Lui said her last semester at Hong Kong Shue Yan University was less memorable than she hoped, as social-distancing measures meant less time spent with friends. Photo: Handout

Elaine Soh Hong Yuan, 24, a Singaporean film graduate from Baptist University was hoping her family and friends would come for her graduation, but pandemic travel restrictions have made that impossible. Now she is even more disappointed the ceremony will be online.

While many are coming to terms with the disruptions to their graduation celebrations, others are more concerned about the pandemic’s effect on their quest for a job, as well as Hong Kong’s economic troubles and political situation.

Rita Lam, for one, has considered emigrating to Taiwan or Britain, as she believed the city’s political situation had taken a turn for the worse, especially since the introduction of the sweeping national security law at the end of June.

But her lack of savings made her decide to stay and continue working as an assistant accountant at a commercial firm.

My parents said they should play scissors-paper-stone (to see which can attend graduation). At least allow two guests, as it’s a big moment and usually both parents want to go

Norah Lui, Hong Kong Shue Yan University

“I may not have immediate plans to migrate, but in the long-term, I’ll see how the political situation plays out,” she said.

For Norah Lui, a 23-year-old fresh graduate in marketing from Hong Kong Shue Yan University, her final semester turned out less memorable than she hoped because the pandemic meant switching to online classes.

“I missed hanging out with my friends,” she said. “Our regular dinners and hang-outs were cancelled due to social distancing.”

Her private university is holding in-person graduation ceremonies this month and next month, but graduates can bring only one guest. Lui said it will be hard deciding whether her mother or father will be with her.

“My parents said they should play scissors-paper-stone,” she said with a laugh. “At least allow two guests, as it’s a big moment and usually both parents want to go.”

Lui already has a job doing digital marketing for a start-up, and despite some teething pains settling in, said she had never thought of leaving the city she calls home.

“Even though there are so many uncertainties in Hong Kong, moving to a foreign country is like throwing everything away,” she said.

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