Graduation season is still months away, but as these events take planning, area colleges and universities are beginning to make decisions about holding in-person ceremonies.
And for those that haven’t decided yet, announcements will be coming soon.
Traditional commencement ceremonies went away in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to socially distance. Schools and school divisions got creative with how to make this milestone special for students while also following Gov. Ralph Northam’s mandates, and guidelines from the Virginia Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some had virtual ceremonies, others had drive-in ceremonies and some had ceremonies by appointment.
Infections, hospitalizations and deaths have only increased since then locally and throughout the state and country. However, two approved COVID-19 vaccines are providing a light at the end of the tunnel. The question is, will the end of that tunnel arrive before May?
For Blue Ridge Community College, the answer is no. The graduation ceremony originally planned for May 8 has been canceled, according to a letter to students this week.
“We are sorry to announce that we will not be able to hold the in-person graduation ceremony planned for May 8 on the Blue Ridge Community College campus,” Registrar Lisa Adkins said in the letter.
BRCC will have a virtual graduation that will include student and keynote speakers, submitted images of graduates displayed and confirmation of student degrees.
“We share in your disappointment of not being able to celebrate together, in person, but hope that you will save this date and share it with your family and friends so that we can recognize your accomplishments in a safe and appropriate way,” Adkins wrote.
Of all area college and universities, BRCC was the only one that conducted mostly virtual learning for the entirety of the 2020-21 school year.
Eastern Mennonite University still is about two weeks out from making its statement on what graduation will look like, according to Lauren Jefferson, director of communications for EMU.
James Madison University has also not announced plans for graduation. According to Mary-Hope Vass, spokesperson for the university, there is no timeline for the decision, as planning and decision-making is contingent on executive orders from the governor’s office on the size of gatherings.
Bridgewater College is the only area college or university planning to hold an in-person graduation in May.
BC is scheduled to hold in-person commencement exercises for the Class of 2021, in addition to December 2020 graduates, on May 1. The college plans to hold commencement exercises for the Class of 2020 prior to the baccalaureate service on April 30, according to Abbie Parkhurst, associate vice president of marketing and communications for the college.
“We will continue to monitor the broader health landscape and external conditions, deferring to state and federal authorities in our planning. Because current health conditions are in flux, we will notify the classes of 2020 and 2021 of final details of commencement events in the coming months,” Parkhurst said.