Let the celebrations begin as another school year comes to a close and graduation ceremonies are starting to take place. During the Covid-19 pandemic, serious reconsideration of past traditions had to be made to follow safely regulations and guidelines while still recognizing the accomplishments of graduating classes.
Area colleges and universities and the Easton public schools are planning alternative graduation ceremonies to accommodate the 2021 graduates. Some universities have also scheduled ceremonies to recognize the class of 2020 since the coronavirus completely shut down their in-person commencement events last year.
Universities in neighboring towns, including Fairfield University and Sacred Heart University, are planning in-person ceremonies to honor the class of 2021 along with the class of 2020.
Fairfield University plans to hold in-person celebrations the week of May 17, starting with an in-person commencement ceremony for graduate students The University is estimating just under 1,000 bachelor’s degrees and just over 400 graduate degrees will be conferred between all of the ceremonies.
Smaller in-person ceremonies for the class of 2021 start Monday, May 17, and go to Wednesday, May 19. The smaller ceremonies include two for the College of Arts and Sciences, two for the School of Business, the School of Nursing and Health Studies with the School of Engineering finishing off the week’s celebrations. A virtual conferral of degrees will be on Sunday, May 23, for both the graduate and undergraduate classes of 2021.
Fairfield University will also hold an in-person commencement to celebrate the undergraduate class of 2020 on Saturday, May 22. It will be broken into two smaller ceremonies to accommodate all the students. A virtual ceremony for the graduate class of 2020 is planned for Saturday, May 15.
All of the in-person celebrations will be held on campus, rain or shine. Each student will receive two tickets for guests to come to view the ceremonies.
Sacred Heart University
Sacred Heart University is planning ceremonies very similar to Fairfield University. Sacred Heart will honor the class of 2020 along with the class of 2021. The University held an in-person commencement for the graduate and undergraduate classes of 2020 on Saturday, May 15.
“The turnout of the 2020 class is amazing,” said Dr. John Petillo, president of Sacred Heart University. More than 800 students attended the class of 2020 in-person celebrations.
The University will hold four graduation ceremonies for the class of 2021 on Wednesday, May 19, and Thursday May 20. These ceremonies are for the College of Arts and Sciences and St. Vincent’s College, the College of Nursing and College of Health Professions, and closing out the undergraduate ceremonies is the College of Business and Technology and the College of Education. The class of 2021 graduate ceremony will conclude the ceremonies on Saturday, May 22.
Planning the ceremonies has been no easy task. “The graduation/commencement committee worked very hard because things can change from week to week,” said Petillo.
Sacred Heart has previously held commencement ceremonies at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, but due to the coronavirus pandemic the University this year will hold all ceremonies on the campus football field, rain or shine. Each student for all of the ceremonies will receive two guest tickets. Livestream will also be available for all of the events.
“The students are delighted for an in-person ceremony,” said Petillo.
Joel Barlow High School and Helen Keller Middle School
In 2020, Joel Barlow High School and Helen Keller Middle School also had to make alternative plans for remote graduation ceremonies due to Covid-19 pandemic. Barlow held a drive-through style graduation to recognize the graduating class, and Keller sent a pre-recorded video to families in lieu of an in-person ceremony.
This year, Barlow will be holding an in-person graduation at the school stadium on June 16 at 6 p.m.. It will be a “pretty traditional commencement with music, speeches, and pomp!” said Dr. Gina Pin, Barlow head of school and assistant superintendent.
“Guests will be limited due to stadium capacity and local DPH guidelines,” Pin said. “We are renting staging and have purchased a turf protector as we will be set up on the turf field.”
Susan Kaplan, Keller principal, said, “We will be celebrating our grade 8 class with an outdoor community event out on Pond Field on June 15 at 5:30 p.m. Families (including their grade 8 student) will sit together on their own blankets. We expect the ceremony to last approximately 45 minutes.”
Additional guidance from Gov. Ned Lamont and the state Department of Public Health will help Connecticut public school officials with commencement decisions for this year.