Admin announces ‘21 commencement plans

Virginia Wesleyan University administration has announced that Spring Commencement will be hosted in-person this May.

In a Nota Bene sent Feb. 15, President Scott D. Miller announced that separate May 8 Commencement ceremonies will be held in-person for each of VWU’s academic schools. A separate May 15 ceremony will be held for graduates from the VWU Global Campus, which includes online and weekend students.

Dr. Miller described a variety of considerations that led to this decision in an Feb. 25 interview, including state progress on managing the coronavirus pandemic and opinions from the student body. Miller expressed that feedback from students who graduated in December said that the enthusiasm of being part of Commencement wore off the longer away it was from actual class completion and graduation.

Accordingly, “What we wanted to do was come up with dates and a format that, if you’re getting close to your graduation, it’s going to be close to your completion of classes so that the bubbliness and happiness of it all is right there and you’re not coming back eight months later, six months into a new job or in graduate school,” Miller explained.

He went on to say that the current plans “put graduates first.” The ‘platform party’ will be composed of President Miller, Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Maynard Schaus, and the Dean of each academic school. Others will be limited to support staff for the ceremony: faculty, staff and Board of Trustees members will not be invited to Commencement in order to provide more guest capacity for graduates. Each graduate is currently expected to be able to invite 3 people to their Commencement ceremony.

Graduates will be divided up by academic school, so there will be four separate ceremonies on May 8 at different times: one each for the Birdsong School of Social Science, the Joan P. Brock School of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, the Susan S. Goode School of Arts and Humanities, and the D. Henry Watts School of Professional Studies. Ceremonies will be held in the Towne Bank Arena of the Batten Center. Double majors will have the opportunity to choose which school they wish to attend the ceremony for, in order to minimize contact between groups. 

Arrangements to take photos with faculty and facilities graduates have fond memories of will be available in the days surrounding Commencement, per Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs Sue Larkin.  

Larkin also explained that the decision to hold Commencement in the Batten Center was due to its size and easy-to-control flow; entrances and exits can be more easily controlled, and the facility’s layout provides an easy way to air out the space between ceremonies. The names of guests will also need to be given in advance to facilitate any potential need for contact tracing.

President Miller also highlighted that the climate of the region made weather difficult to predict in spring, and that the decision to hold Commencement inside was also partly due to the complications that would arise if inclement weather was forecasted on Commencement weekend and plans had to be changed abruptly. “You need to be able to plan [Commencement] out more exactly than what we would be able to do if we were to use the Batten Center as a backup,” given the precautions necessary for coronavirus, Miller explained.

The decision to reverse course and go virtual would only occur if coronavirus cases began to trend dramatically in a negative direction, which is not predicted to happen according to current projections the University is receiving from Governor Ralph Northam through the Council of Independent Colleges in Virginia. 

The University’s CICV COVID Coordinator is Dr. Keith Moore, who is also the Vice President for Campus Life and Operational Management. Dr. Moore is confident that the University will be able to handle Commencement safely, continuing on with current COVID safety practices. “I have no doubt in my mind that we’ll be successful with [controlling COVID],” said Moore.  

Moore explained that the University has purchased spray machines that can sanitize the entire fitness center in 10 minutes, and seating will be kept distanced. Masks, of course, will continue to be mandatory. Temperatures will be taken from guests’ cars, much akin to the move-in process at the beginning of this semester and fall 2020, and flyers will be given out explaining the institution’s COVID rules for Commencement. These rules will also be sent out via email prior to Commencement.

The Commencement speaker, Dr. Timothy Carter, will be remoting in via video call to deliver his address to each ceremony. A handful of other alumni and students are also going to be honored at Commencement, including senior Colin Wolf, who will be graduated posthumously with the rest of the graduating class.

Senior Skyler Lattuca had mixed feelings about the news of in-person Commencement. “I think it’s a nice sentiment that the school is trying to make a normal graduation possible, however, I am a bit concerned as far as what will be sacrificed in order to make that happen.” Lattuca expressed particular disappointment about the news that faculty will not be involved in Commencement. “As they’re the most connected to my success as a student, I would prefer they were present as well. I recognize that that may not be possible though.”

Lattuca said that he didn’t have any problems with graduating only with people from his academic school. “This is the group that I’m most connected to and seen grow over the years, so I believe it’s favorable as opposed to other options that could’ve been pursued,” Lattuca said.

Senior Brian Beaume was more enthusiastic about the news of in-person graduation ceremonies. “I love it,” he said. “As much as you know we’re in a pandemic and all that, it’s been four years, and I really do want to at least walk. That’s such a, you know, a stepping stone for a lot of people.” Beaume expressed that he was still very excited about Commencement, despite the rules. “It’s the end of the year, and you know, it’s the end of an era.”

By Brianna Sandy