College officials reconsidering in-person commencement

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Photo: Derek Palmer for Emerson College

Soledad O’Brien speaking to graduates during 2019’s commencement ceremony.

By Frankie Rowley and Camilo Fonseca

Emerson is “exploring several options” for an in-person commencement ceremony alongside the previously announced virtual celebration on May 9, according to a Thursday afternoon email from college officials. 

The college shifted the May 9 ceremony to an entirely virtual platform on Feb. 4—a move that garnered outcry from the class of graduating seniors and sparked a petition asking the college to reconsider that has amassed nearly 400 signatures. In March, college officials told The Beacon they made the decision to shift the ceremony online due to pressure from community members to decide on the format of the ceremony. 

“There were a lot of requests for the college to make a decision so people could plan and know what was going on,” Vice President and Dean of Campus Life Jim Hoppe said at a COVID Q&A on March 10. “That was probably one of the biggest factors of the timing [of the decision].” 

Hoppe also said that reversing the decision to hold an online ceremony would be difficult due to venues not wanting to hold gatherings of that size. 

“Commencement has so many moving parts to try to put together,” Hoppe said. “It’s not the kind of thing you can just kind of flip a switch and pivot on that quickly. It seemed like most of the larger venues that are open to the public haven’t been willing to put in reservations for groups that size. So, at some point people had to make a decision of what is going to happen.”

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The move to consider an in-person ceremony comes after numerous area schools committed to holding in-person commencement ceremonies. Boston University and Northeastern University are holding ceremonies at Nickerson Field and Fenway Park, respectively. 

Northeastern will hold two ceremonies, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, each consisting of half the graduating class in order to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Guests will not be permitted to attend the ceremony held at BU, but they can join via a livestream of the events. Northeastern has yet to announce whether guests will be allowed to be in attendance or not. 

Suffolk University announced Tuesday its intention to hold an in-person commencement, also at Fenway Park, Suffolk is allowing graduates to invite three guests to their ceremony, though guests will remain in “pods”— designated seats in the stadium—for the ceremony. 

The college still plans to have its virtual graduation ceremony on May 9, according to the email.

Neither Hoppe nor Michelle Gaseau, a college spokesperson, could be immediately reached for comment Thursday night. 

The email stated that more information regarding the potential in-person ceremony is set to come within the coming weeks, and did not provide any more details on what the options for an in-person ceremony could look like. 

“The College will continue to update you on Commencement details as they become available, and we thank you for your patience and understanding as COVID guidelines continue to evolve,” the email read.

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