BY DOMINIC PINO OPINION EDITOR
On Friday, March 19, President Washington announced in an all-campus email that Mason would be having a more normal commencement in accordance with Virginia loosening COVID-19 restrictions for school graduation ceremonies.
Jim Ryan, president of the University of Virginia, announced on March 17, the same day the commonwealth revised its COVID-19 guidelines, that UVA students could expect a more normal graduation. “We will work hard over the coming weeks to craft a plan for how we can celebrate our graduating students, consistent with the new guidance,” he wrote.
I spoke with Vice President for University Life Rose Pascarell this morning to get a better idea of what in-person commencement at Mason would look like.
Pascarell said all the public universities in Virginia are on the same page. “I was on a call with the other VPs at Virginia publics, and we discussed this,” she said.
“It’s going to be a little more work for us since we don’t have a large outdoor football stadium like some of the other universities,” she said. “But we’re confident we’ll be able to figure something out for colleges that want to have in-person ceremonies.”
The university will continue to have a virtual ceremony in addition to in-person plans. The focus is on planning college-specific ceremonies, Pascarell said, and the deans of each college are involved in that process.
Pascarell said a team composed of Event Services, University Life, the Office of the President, the Provost’s Office and Strategic Communications are working out the details of exactly how a ceremony would work.
“By the middle of this week, we will have a stronger sense of what’s possible,” she said.
The primary venue being considered so far is the soccer stadium, Pascarell said, since it’s Mason’s largest outdoor space. The new Virginia guidelines cap outdoor attendance at 30 percent of capacity, or 5,000 people, whichever is less. According to the Mason athletics department website, the stadium seats 5,000, so a crowd of 1,500 should be consistent with the commonwealth’s guidelines.
It’s unclear at this point exactly what attendance policies will be in place. “The goal would be to have any graduating student be able to come with at least some family members,” Pascarell said. “Small family pods would be allowed to sit close to each other so long as they are distanced six to ten feet from other pods.”
“We have heard from students and parents that they want to have a celebration,” Pascarell said. “I always want to hear from students, and they should email me with any ideas about how we can make this work.”
Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and I share it with Pascarell’s permission. Send her a note thanking her and all the university administration for doing the right thing. And if graduation is important to you, make sure university leadership doesn’t forget that.
And keep your eye on the prize: in-person instruction in the fall. According to NPR, coronavirus vaccines should be available to everyone over 16 years of age by May 1, and 24 percent of Virginians have already received at least one dose. In the almost six months between now and the end of August, there’s plenty of time to vaccinate most people and prepare for in-person instruction.
We pay too much to have online school. We’ve done a great job controlling virus spread at Mason, and our country has made multiple vaccines in record time. Those successes are paying off by allowing some form of in-person commencement. Let’s keep at it.