Colleen Kawahara, a member of the Willamette University Reopening Operations Committee, says that graduation plans for this year are still undecided. However, they are committed to making and communicating a decision before mid-semester break from Mar. 25-28.
As for now, they’re trying to get an idea of what seniors would most like for them to include in the event. “I’ve been working with Kristin Jradi, she’s an ASWU senator. I believe [ASWU are] going to be surveying seniors to get their preferences for commencement. They’re going to be asking what aspects of graduation are important to them, whether it’s walking down the stage, or shaking hands with the president and getting a diploma, or being with their friends,” she explained.
After the survey goes out, they’re going to play things by ear. “The priority is to try to figure out how to do an in-person experience with the health and safety guidelines,” she said. “I think it is important for seniors to do things in-person so we want to try to make that happen.” But she also said that it’s been difficult to theorize how best to make the event safe. “Because Marion County is currently a high-risk county, the limit is currently 75 people for outdoor events and 50 for indoor ones. And typically we have about 4,000 people come to commencement.” If Marion County moves into the moderate risk category, this limitation would be slightly lifted: “It would be 150 people for outdoor events, and 100 for indoor events,” she explained. But for now, they’re planning ahead as if the risk level isn’t going to change.
Kawahara does have some ideas on how to make an in-person graduation ceremony safe. “If we do an in-person experience we may have to limit it to just the graduates, and the families may need to view it virtually.” She’s also been thinking about breaking the ceremony up into smaller groups based on department. With this option, there would be an English major ceremony, a math major ceremony, etc. “The part that I’m trying to figure out is how would the double majors do that,” she said.
She also talked about the possibility of holding an event virtually. “It could be a hybrid for those who are studying remotely,” she said. “The other option is all virtual.” Kawahara mentioned that originally she didn’t think about the idea that students might not want to attend an in-person graduation ceremony. “ASWU mentioned that some students might still be wary of attending an event like that,” she said. Again, she’s playing things by ear. So if a majority of students feel too unsafe to attend, she’s not opposed to doing a virtual event.
When asked if seniors will have to purchase caps and gowns, Kawahara said that they’re still undecided on that. “Last year we sent a care package to those students with goodies, and their caps and gowns, ahead of commencement so that they could wear it on that day.” But she doesn’t think they’ll take that route this year. Instead, they’ve been planning to create an event like the Senior Salute of previous years. “You know, it’s the event where they typically order stuff like caps and gowns and other regalia. That was scheduled for March 16. I think we’ll still do something like that but we’ll probably push it back until we know what we’re doing,” she said.