Richards: A pandemic commencement amidst a promising recovery

Jason Richards, Staff columnist

Last year, the year of COVID-19, Case Western Reserve University moved commencement to a fully remote format. Graduating students sent in slides that would be presented remotely, with their name, picture and earned degree. It was the best course of action considering the circumstances and the health risk posed by keeping commencement in-person. This year’s CWRU undergraduate commencement is scheduled on May 30th, in-person—well, for the graduating students, at least. Even though the positivity rate has dropped significantly in recent months, and vaccinations are becoming more and more readily available, CWRU’s administration has decided that no family or friends can attend the in-person ceremony.

In a country where over 3 million people are receiving vaccinations per day, mask restrictions are slowly being lifted and even sporting events are allowing increasing capacity, topping tens of thousands of fans in a stadium, it looks like we will be stuck with no fans at one of our proudest moments. 

Believe me, I understand the health considerations. Families would be attending from across the country—even across the world. There is no way to tell what adverse effects it could have. Moreover, the campus community has been working extremely hard on keeping the area safe and COVID-free. We know the protocols, we know the processes and we know the restrictions.

We’ve been in the mindset—keeping the campus community safe—for so long on, and it has been working extremely well. According to Interim President Scott Cowen, CWRU has kept below a 0.3 positivity rate this semester, showing immense improvement even over last semester where we had six weeks above a 1 percent positivity rate.

Thus, I propose a compromise where a limited number of our families can attend, following social distancing guidelines, while keeping the remote livestream an option. Limited attendance matches the trends we are seeing around the country. Restrictions are being lightened, groups—albeit small ones—are allowed to get together again while still following these public health guidelines of wearing masks and staying six feet apart.

I don’t see a reason why our campus can’t make this middle ground a reality. Letting even two family members watch their kid walk during commencement can mean the world in one of life’s biggest moments.

Now, I’m no event coordinator, and yeah, as a graduating senior with a proud mother, I’m a little biased, but allowing a socially distanced audience seems very feasible. 

On top of that, the undergraduate commencement ceremony is being split into smaller groups of students instead of a mass ceremony, further lessening the number of students and potential audience members as well.

It’s been stated that pandemic and vaccination updates will be taken into consideration as we inch closer to commencement, so maybe this is just my little push in that (biased) direction of letting a couple family members attend. It’s important to me, and I’m sure it is for many others.