Students and Administration Discuss In-Person Commencement Ceremony

Colgate continues to discuss details about the Commencement Ceremony for the Class of 2021 as the end of the semester approaches. These include whether or not guests and family members can attend the graduation and what date it will take place on. Current decisions about graduation include an in-person ceremony taking place on May 9, 2021. 

Chief of Staff Hanna Rodriguez-Farrar expressed concerns about New York State travel restrictions and gathering guidelines, which add significant complicating factors for allowing guests. Current state guidelines, even with changes to those rules slated for later this month, prevent the University from welcoming guests as of right now.

“The University’s Emergency Operations Center and the Health Analytics Team are monitoring any changes that the state may announce between now and March 15,” Rodriguez-Farrar said, “The University will contact students and parents in the Class of 2021 with a final decision about guests on or around that date.”

The Commencement Executive Committee began meeting to discuss Commencement for the Class of 2021 on Dec. 16, 2020 with the hopes of planning a commencement similar to those held prior to 2019, according to Rodriguez-Farrar. 

“With less than 70 days until the ceremony, a lot of logistical details need to be worked out: maps for socially distanced seating, staging, IT backbone for live streaming, etc.,” Rodriguez-Farrar said.

The administration has been working closely with the Student Government Association (SGA), specifically with seniors Class Council President Natalia Valente and Vice President Kasey Chan. Rodriguez-Farrar went to Chan and Valente to talk about graduation plans, according to Valente. 

“Back in the fall I talked with Hanna a couple times, but she just said so much was still unknown and we just need to get back on campus next semester,” Valente said. “So their first priority was making sure that everyone made it back on campus and that we were able to get through quarantine. Once they realized we got through that, they started planning.”

Valente said discussion surrounding graduation plans began in late January. 

“We said ‘We think it’s great, but if we want to make this happen it has to be a collective effort,” Valente said. “Every senior needs to feel involved in this process if we are going to make it happen. So I suggested a town hall so we could involve everyone in it and see where everyone’s heads were at.” 

The Feb. 18 town hall panel consisted of Chan, Valente, Associate Vice President of Institutional Advancement and Special Events Mari Assad, Assistant Director of University Events Serenity McCracken and Rodriguez-Farrar, who answered student-submitted questions throughout the evening.

“I think the school has done a pretty good job in terms of communicating to the students,” Chan said. “We took polls on dates we would like to see commencement, whether we would like guests to come, the torch light ceremony, whether we could cut some parts that are considered part of ‘traditional’ commencement.”

The turnout was approximately 160 people via Zoom out of 750 in the senior class. Valente said because many attendees watched the town hall in groups, attendee number was probably closer to 300. 

“In terms of the senior class itself, commencement is in person,” Chan said. “By that time, the school said we could fit everyone in Andy Kerr stadium without violating New York State Guidelines. But the question about guests is still up in the air.”

Students voted to keep the Torch Light ceremony and discard the Baccalaureate mass, as that is held in the chapel and wouldn’t comply with COVID-19 guidelines. Other details are still being decided, according to Valente.  

“We’re lucky to even be able to have a senior year. A lot of people didn’t even get to go back to campus for senior year,” Valente said. “I’m just super grateful that the Colgate faculty and staff has worked so hard to give us that, and now they’re giving us an in person graduation.”

The administration and student leaders plan to continue these discussions surrounding graduation as New York State guidelines on in-person events remain elusive.