Emu Devine
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Throughout the craze, changes, and confusion caused by the pandemic during the last year, it is not surprising that Whittier College’s commencement plans, both voluntarily and involuntarily, have changed as well. Throughout the school year, students were under the assumption that graduation festivities would have to take place through Zoom or another virtual platform.

However, after emails hinting at change and surveys asking for graduating seniors preferences, it was announced on April 9 that a limited in-person celebration would take place at Whittier College.

This news came after the Los Angeles Public Health created guidelines for planning events on college and university campuses. Though, it is up to each individual institute to determine their plan as long as it is in accordance with those set guidelines. 

For example, USC is allowing limited capacity attendance, while UCLA is only allowing graduates to attend their celebration. In terms of local, smaller-enrollment campuses comparable to Whittier College, Pomona College has decided to stick with only a virtual ceremony at this time.

The student response to Whittier’s announcement of an in-person celebration varied greatly — from insisting on a virtual graduation, to proposing smaller, cultural ceremonies or divided ceremonies by department, to a more fully complete ceremony inspired by the plan put forward by the local University of Southern California. The Quaker Campus reached out to student activists who used social media to advocate for an in-person ceremony, though they declined to comment.

The Whittier College administration tried to create a fulfilling compromise, and announced via email that an in-person, singular graduation celebration would take place on campus this upcoming May 22, starting promptly at 9 a.m., with restrictions in place.

“The president and senior cabinet wanted to be responsive to what students were saying,” said Associate Vice President of Marketing and Communications, Ana Lilia Barraza. “[They] worked hard to find a way to incorporate an in-person component to this year’s celebration that still managed to abide by the current State and County health regulations.”

Given the potentially dangerous nature of such an event taking place during a pandemic, the College listed out several regulations throughout the email regarding who could attend and how. Graduating students will only be allowed to bring two guests. The party of three must reside in no more than three households.

Unvaccinated attendees must be residing in the state of California, while vaccinated attendees may travel from out of state within the guidelines set forth by California and L.A. County. Every attendee will be required to submit to a wellness check, wear a mask, and not approach or socialize with anyone outside of their three-person group as per social distancing norms.

“We are not calling the May 22 celebration a Commencement ceremony because it will be a more streamlined event,” said Barraza. To follow guidelines, graduates will walk onto the field and pick up their diploma cover. 

“There will be a photo station set up on the field with a professional photographer, and each student will have the opportunity to get their picture taken,” said Barraza. “Due to health restrictions, there will be no reception after the event.”

As for other options, the College decided to also offer a more ‘traditional’ ceremony once infection rates of COVID-19 improve. This official commencement will take place on September 24 at 6 p.m., and will include graduates from the Class of 2020 and the Class of 2021.

For those uncomfortable with or unable to attend an in-person event, there will be a virtual celebration on May 21. Cultural Graduations will also take place virtually.

For all graduating students, be sure to check your student emails to find more information and updates regarding graduation and related celebrations. The deadline for making seat reservations for the in-person ceremony is April 30. 

To RSVP, fill out the “Grad celebration RSVP” form here.

Featured Image: Courtesy of iStock

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