Utica College prepares for commencement during a pandemic

Photo+courtesy+of+Utica+College.

Photo courtesy of Utica College.

Bailey Hryb, Managing Editor

Graduation day is just a few weeks away and although COVID-19 cases are on the decline in Oneida County, Utica College is not taking any chances when it comes to public safety.

UC will be holding multiple sized-down commencement ceremonies for the undergraduate class. Graduate-level students will have to attend entirely online, as the hooding process makes it near impossible to adhere to current safety measures.

The biggest disappointment for students and the college community is the fact that guests, including friends and family of the graduating class, will not be allowed to attend in person, due to public gathering restrictions. 

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“Due to these capacity restrictions, we are only able to admit graduates and a limited number of faculty and staff,” Vice President for Academic Affairs and Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Kelly Adams said. “This is, of course, the most disappointing aspect of the impact of COVID-19 on commencement this year, as we fully recognize commencement is such an important and special milestone for families. Family members and other guests will attend virtually via a live stream at our website. Recordings of the ceremony will also be made available.”

An email from Scott Nonemaker, the interim dean of students, asked participating students to indicate that they are in fact intending graduation. Soon after the analysis of the responses, according to the email, the college will begin sending out further details about the ceremony.

Adams explained that the Adirondack Bank Center, where these ceremonies will be held, can only house up to 10 percent of its normal capacity, per current state orders; this equates to roughly 400 individuals allowed to be in attendance. 

When questioned about sporting events allowing in-person spectators – the Utica Comets allowed a small percentage of spectators on April 9 – Adams clarified that, although held at the same location, sporting events and commencement protocols differ. 

“First, New York State has consistently indicated that commencement guidance is separate from sports and performing arts guidance – in other words, the guidance for sporting events is not applicable to commencement ceremonies,” she said. “Having said that, when we were able to permit fans to the hockey game earlier this month, we were required to adhere to the same maximum capacity order of 400 total attendees.”

Graduation is slated to take place on May 15. Graduates should expect details regarding ceremony start times soon. Adhering to current COVID-19 guidelines, there will be time dedicated to cleaning and sanitizing the venue between ceremonies. 

“We hope to be able to announce specific start times soon after we have a firm idea of the number of graduates who will be walking,” Adams said. “All ceremonies will be held on Saturday, May 15. Start times will be approximately four hours apart, in order to meet the state guidelines and provide ample time for cleaning, sanitizing and resetting the venue.”