By MacKenzie Brady
On Jan. 25, Interim Provost and Dean of the College Dr. Michael Harvey announced in an email that the 238thCommencement will be held in person on Sunday, May 23, 2021 at 10:30 a.m.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has changed much of how our spring semester will take place and how to structure graduation is something that required some additional evaluation,” Dr. Harvey’s email said. “After much consideration, I am pleased to announce that we are moving forward with plans for an in-person commencement for our graduates.”
“We’re working through what we’re going to be able to do, and we’re just so excited that we feel confident at this point that we can do an in-person commencement for our graduates,” Director of Campus Events Gina Ralson ’04 said.
According to Ralson, if all goes according to the current plan, Commencement ceremonies will be held on the campus green in an attempt to make them as “normal or traditional” as possible.
Despite the want for Commencement to look normal, there are some aspects of the ceremony that are certain to be different, including social distancing, the wearing of masks, and graduates only inviting a limited number of guests. The number of guests each student will be able to invite is currently unknown.
“We’re fairly certain at this point [Commencement] won’t be the ‘Come one, come all’ kind of event that it normally is, but we hope that conditions allow for graduates to invite a certain number of guests. We just have no idea at this point how many that will be,” Ralson said.
Any seniors who are currently living at home will be included in the Commencement ceremonies — although what that inclusion will entail is currently unknown. The College is working toward Commencement being as inclusive as possible.
“Of course, it’s not just the two and a half to three hours of graduation, people will be coming together and we have some responsibility in doing all that we can to ensure all of that is safe — all of the additional interactions, the shared celebrations. I think we would want some assurance that people have either been tested and shown to be clear or have vaccinations. Those will be important things for people coming to campus who have not already been here,” Dr. Harvey said, speculating that some type of health protocol for those outside of the campus community may be required to attend Commencement.
“Every decision we make for the College is not just about the College and these people, it’s about family, about everybody else who lives in the community. There are a lot of at-risk and vulnerable people in Kent County and we consciously have to be thinking about what’s good for the whole community,” he said.
While much is still uncertain, the College will be paying close attention to the ongoing changes with COVID-19 to plan accordingly. The in-person Commencement ceremonies will adhere to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other public health guidance, according to Ralson.
Moving Commencement online will not be considered until the data suggests an in-person ceremony is not possible, according to Dr. Harvey.
“I can’t emphasize enough that nothing is set in stone,” Ralson said.
Should there be bad weather on May 23, the College may postpone the outdoor ceremonies until sometime in the afternoon or move pods of students to stream the ceremonies online. These plans are all very preliminary and the College is still talking through options in the event of bad weather.
“We are focusing on the in-person Commencement and that is our goal. If something outside of our control makes us have to shift that goal, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. But for our purposes right now, we are committed to the in-person and we’re planning for in-person,” Ralson said.
Like last year, seniors can expect to receive their regalia in a “graduation in a box” package from the College. This year, these boxes will include caps and gowns, any honor cords, and little goodies.
“We know our graduates are going to get everything that they need regardless of how we carry out Commencement,” Ralson said.
Graduates on campus will be able to pick up their graduation in a box at some point, and those living at home will have their boxes mailed to them.
There are currently no plans for a Commencement rehearsal.
According to Dr. Harvey, there are currently no plans to bring the class of 2020 back to celebrate Commencement ceremonies with the class of 2021.
Updates on Commencement will be sent via email and all communications will be archived on the website.
Featured Photo caption: The campus green stands between the Hill Dorms and the Toll Science Center. It is the possible location of Washington College’s 238th Commencement if an in-person ceremony is possible come May. Photo by Marah Vain-Callahan.