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Virginia’s tentative plan allows for up to 5,000 people at outdoor graduation ceremonies this spring

Outdoor venues can have up to 5,000 people or 30% capacity, whichever is less

Governor announces draft plan for safe in-person graduations
Governor announces draft plan for safe in-person graduations

After the challenges many graduates have endured due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Ralph Northam has good news for the Class of 2021.

On Wednesday afternoon, Northam released a draft plan that would allow outdoor graduations to have up to 5,000 people or 30% of the venue capacity, whichever is less, and allow indoor graduations to have 500 people or 30% of the venue capacity, whichever is less.

These guidelines cover graduations from preschool through college.

Education officials have looked over the plan and it’s expected to be added to Third Amended Executive Order 72 on April 1.

“I appreciate the work that our schools, students, and teachers have put in to get back into the classroom safely, and the efforts of public health officials and education leaders in developing guidelines for safe graduations and commencements this spring,” said the governor. “We are releasing this guidance early to allow schools to begin planning for this year’s events. While graduation and commencement ceremonies will still be different than they were in the past, this is a tremendous step forward for all of our schools, our graduates, and their families.”

Radford University and Virginia Tech have not finalized their commencement plans or whether they will be in-person or virtual.

“Trust me on this, we want to celebrate our students,” said Virginia Tech’s Mark Owczarski. “This is a lifelong goal.”

“We are also very eager to celebrate with parents, families, and students,” said Radford University’s Caitlyn Scaggs. “We appreciate patience as we continue to figure out those details.”

The decisions will be aided by whether the New River Valley moves into Phase 1C of vaccine distribution, which includes all university staff as well as students with medical conditions.

However, both Scaggs and Owczarski are optimistic because of the dropping COVID-19 rate on both campuses. Radford only recorded five positive cases in the more than 500 tests they administered last week.

“That’s a 0.86 percent positivity rate,” Scaggs said. “That represents the work of so many and truly a commitment to doing the right thing.”

“This is the way that a student can be in Lane Stadium, hear their name, and walk across the stage,” Owczarski said.

Prior to the mandate, several Virginia Tech parents such as Nicole Kreamer organized a petition for an in-person graduation.

“Anyone who has made it to graduation in the middle of a global pandemic truly deserves to be honored,” Kreamer said. “This class is going to go down in history as one of the resilient classes because they have just kept pushing forward.”

During these ceremonies, attendees must wear masks and follow other guidelines and safety protocols to ensure proper distancing.

You can click here to see preliminary guidance for safely holding graduation and commencement events.

About the Authors:

Jazmine Otey joined the 10 News team in February 2021.