ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Last spring, college graduates everywhere had their final year cut short with the onset of COVID-19. Additionally, a chance to walk the stage had been taken away. But not for the Class of 2021, according to some local colleges.
New state guidelines regarding capacity limitations have arrived just as colleges are planning their commencement ceremonies for spring. On March 22, outdoor capacity for gatherings will increase from 10 to 25 people, and outdoor event capacity will increase from 50 to 200 people. Indoor gathering will remain at 10 people, and indoor event capacity increases to 100 people.
The governor said social distancing and mask requirements remain for for gatherings.
For Hobart William Smith colleges in Geneva, plans are underway – and they include many of the usual elements: music, pomp and circumstance, and guest speakers. The graduation will be held outside, and thankfully holding ceremonies outdoors is a long-time tradition that will come in handy this year with the pandemic.
“It’s going to happen outside rain snow or shine,” said Kathy Regan, Chief of Staff for HWS.
There will be a few differences. Besides mask-wearing and distancing, Regan said no catering – if anything food options will be grab and go. The amount of guests per student is still under determination, but they will be limited. There could even be COVID testing. Regan says the school currently tests students and staff on campus routinely, so some kind of system would have to be developed for guests as well.
“Should guests be allowed, we’d need some kind of documentation for either having gotten the vaccine, or having COVID within a 90 day time frame, and/or testing negative prior to arrival,” she said.
Roberts Wesleyan College is also in early stages of planning. President Deana Porterfield says they need some time to digest recent guidelines from the state regarding indoor and outdoor gatherings. She says if the school has learned anything, it’s that guidelines are ever-changing and staff are on standby for anything.
Whether the college would utilize rapid testing for ceremonies, she says is unlikely.
“We already test students, but to take on testing of families and external groups gets a little more complicated,” she said. The school has about 1,700 students in both undergrad and graduate school. Porterfield says there may have to be multiple ceremonies to social distance.
You may still be wondering – what about the seniors of 2020 who didn’t walk the stage?
For some schools like HWS, there are plans for later this summer, Regan says will follow virtually the same protocols and system as the May commencement.
But other schools like Roberts Wesleyan are satisfied with their virtual ceremonies, and plan to celebrate in other the Class of 2020 in other ways.
“There is an opportunity to celebrate this class at homecoming, it won’t be another graduation, we did a graduation, it was virtual but it will be an opportunity for that class to be celebrated,” said Porterfield.