UVM’s Spring 2021 commencement ceremony will not require graduates and guests to show proof of vaccinations, but will implement other standard COVID-19 safety precautions.
The University has split commencement into several smaller ceremonies May 20 and 21 to lessen the health risks, instead of the originally scheduled May 23 ceremony.
Each ceremony allows for up to 300 students — vaccinated or unvaccinated — and 900 fully vaccinated guests, according to Gary Derr, vice president for Operations and Public Safety.
UVM is allowing two vaccinated guests for each graduate and is enforcing well as masking, proper distancing and other safety protocols, according to the University’s website.
Derr said enforcing the vaccination requirement will likely be a two-step process where the graduates will first have to write down who they’re bringing, and then the attendees will have to attest themselves that they are vaccinated for their tickets to be validated.
Derr said they cannot ask attendants to send a copy of their vaccination card for verification because it would technically be a medical record, which he said would be a more difficult process.
The University is not allowed to acquire medical records because of health information privacy laws, according to the University’s website.
Derr said the Vermont Department Health Agency and Vermont Community Health are in support of UVM’s plans and said it felt like they “got the full blessing of it.”
“We presented [the plan] to the state officials about what that plan would look like. They were very impressed with it, they liked all the elements of it, and when they advanced and made changes,” Derr said.
The Vermont Department of Health does not make it mandatory for universities to have event plans approved, according to Lindsay Kurrle, secretary of Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development.
However, Kurrle said UVM’s coordinators have shown understanding of the state’s guidelines.
Derr said graduates and guests will use mobile or printed tickets, which can be deactivated if guests do not confirm their vaccination.
“All of the seating will be six feet separated,” Derr said. “Everyone will be required to wear a mask, so the same requirements that we all have in place right now. It’ll be a touchless ceremony.”
Despite the fact that graduates of summer 2020, fall 2020 and winter 2020 all have the opportunity to participate in the ceremony, graduates of spring 2020 will not, according to the University’s website.
Last year, spring 2020 graduates were promised an in-person ceremony, but after five months of anticipation, the University announced there were still no plans in pace for it, according to an Oct. 14 Cynic article.
Then, nearly a year after their originally scheduled commencement, the class of 2020 was informed via email that plans to have a postponed in-person commencement May 2021 were canceled again.
“We had hoped to provide you with an in-person commencement experience this May, but we never expected the pandemic would last as long as it has,” the University stated in an April 6 email.
However, the email noted that there will be “a special celebration” with the Alumni Association when the school is able to plan something within state guidelines.
“We are also pleased to announce that the Class of 2020 will have an opportunity to receive a UVM alumni sweatshirt compliments of the UVM Alumni Association,” the email stated.
Between potential lack of attendance, the hassle of travel and the cap of 300 graduates per ceremony, Derr said they didn’t see a way they could effectively manage inclusion of the spring 2020 graduates.
“I don’t think all of them would attend, but the other challenge is those people that graduated last year are very likely not in Vermont anymore,” Derr said.
The University’s website states that the safety of the community remains the biggest priority and that the ceremony could pivot for an online experience instead to take place on the same dates if COVID health risks worsen.
Governor Phil Scott’s “Roadmap to Reopening,” otherwise known as the “Vermont Forward Plan,” gave the green light on allowing graduates to invite two fully vaccinated guests at the ceremony, according to the Vermont Official State website.
“Phil Scott Tuesday presented the state’s three-month phased reopening plan that he said should result in life and the economy getting back to normal by July 4,” according to an April 6 WCAX article.
Both ceremonies will be livestreamed for family and guests who are unable to attend in person. Links will be posted on the Commencement homepage closer to the dates, according to an April 16 email from Kelly O’Malley, Coordinator of Presidential Events.