Valpo’s graduating classes of spring, summer and fall 2020 will be able to celebrate with in-person commencement. The ceremonies, which will take place Nov. 21-22, come after graduates completed second semester online and many have not been back to Valpo since.
While many schools had their graduation ceremonies entirely online and closer to the regularly scheduled time, Valpo opted to wait until the Porter County Health Department gave the all clear for an in-person celebration. For these seniors, commencement aims to bring some sense of normalcy and celebration to life during the COVID-19 pandemic.
To accommodate for social distancing and to allow for sanitization between ceremonies, each department will have a separate graduation, with alternating locations being used. The schedule is as follows: on Nov. 21 the College of Business will be in the Chapel at 10 a.m., College of Nursing and Health Professions will be in the ARC at 12 p.m. and the Graduate and Law School will be in the Chapel at 3 p.m. On Nov 22., the College of Arts and Sciences BA students will commence in the ARC at 9:30 a.m., the College of Engineering will be in the Chapel at 12 p.m. and the College of Arts and Sciences BS students will be in the ARC at 2:30 p.m.
Cassie Hopkins, Director of University Events and Conferences, explains that the divisions are to allow for proper cleaning and six feet of social distancing to take place.
“We have to allow two and a half hours in between each ceremony so that it can be fully sanitized, and the sanitizer has time to dry then… The ARC capacity was taken down to about 8% of what we normally have. So we're normally able to fit almost 5000 people in the ARC and we're down to about 400. The chapel, the capacity there that we're working with is 250,” said Hopkins.
Faculty members who wish to attend must RSVP beforehand to ensure that the event is not exceeding a safe capacity. Each student is allowed two guest tickets to distribute as they choose. Those who cannot attend in person are invited to watch via livestream, which will be recorded and posted to the Valpo YouTube channel afterwards.
Graduates who are unable or do not feel comfortable attending were given the option to select if they want their name to be called during the ceremony, even though they will not be walking across the stage. A survey was sent out to all graduates asking their plans on attending and what they felt was most important to be kept as part of commencement.
“The ceremonies for this commencement are going to be solely student focused or graduate focused. We've taken out faculty recognitions, and honorary degree recipients, and even the keynote speakers, really. We're having student speakers at each ceremony… We tried to pull out the things that we felt the graduates felt were most special,” Hopkins said.
The process of figuring out how to have an in-person commencement ceremony in the midst of a pandemic has been a bumpy road. Frequent contact with the health department has allowed a plan to come together very quickly, with Hopkins’ work on the project beginning in Sept. Despite a smaller crowd and additional face coverings, graduates will still get the satisfaction and recognition of hearing their name called and walking across the stage.
“I know there's a lot of feelings around having it or not having it and we're just trying to do the best we can with what we have to work with and keep everybody safe at the same time… We're gonna try to get people in and out of there as quickly as possible, while also giving them their moment,” Hopkins said.