Kellen Stepler | Editor-in-Chief
Duquesne senior biology major Alex Puleo’s prayers and hopes came true.
Seniors graduating this spring will be able to walk the graduation stage in May — but, it will come with a couple twists.
“Through creative thinking and careful planning, the university team has arrived at a way to honor our May 2021 graduates in-person with multiple diploma recognition ceremonies this spring, sized and designed so that safety practices will be in place,” wrote Duquesne University President Ken Gormley in a campus-wide email sent Thursday.
Duquesne will host a main, virtual commencement ceremony for all graduates on Thursday, May 6, which will include the official conferral of degrees. The ceremony will feature student speakers, remarks from school deans, and “will have the gravity and sense of celebration that the graduates have earned.”
The university will also hold smaller, individual degree recognition ceremonies for some schools throughout the day Friday, May 7 and following days.
“Each of these mini-ceremonies will occur with all masking, social distancing and contact protocols in place, to assure safety for everyone in attendance,” according to the e-mail.
The mini-ceremonies will be held in spaces like the UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse, the Power Center ballroom and the Student Union Ballroom, and each graduate may be permitted to have two in-person guests in attendance.
“I’m glad we’re able to have something in-person,” Puleo said. “It’s a good step in the right direction to open things back up. I was praying and hoping that there would be a creative way to do it in-person.”
The factors that led to this decision, according to Duquesne spokesperson Gabe Welsch, are that the number of COVID-19 cases in the region are decreasing, the vaccination rate is increasing and the state is easing some prevention measures.
“Gormley made it a priority to work within the health protocols to figure out a way to allow in-person ceremonies for our students and their families, in a safe but meaningful way,” Welsch said. “A hundred years from now, people will look back at the resourcefulness of our students, and this entire Duquesne campus community, in tackling and surmounting the challenges of the global pandemic.”
Senior Health Management Systems major Amber Kerekes was “ecstatic” when she found out about Duquesne’s graduation plans.
“Allowing us to graduate in person is the best decision they could have made, because now my mom and sister can celebrate my graduation with me as well,” Kerekes said. “I was not looking forward to having a virtual graduation after going through four years of college.”
Welsch said that Duquesne’s conference and event services office has to finalize a variety of space logistics first, but the university anticipates that the full schedule of each mini-ceremony will be released no later than next week.
Senior physical therapy major Sam Barton said that she thinks Duquesne’s graduation decision is the “best case scenario given the situation the world is in right now.”
“I’m extremely grateful that they are giving us a chance to walk without putting us all in danger,” Barton said. “I’m very grateful that they have been so cautious when it comes to making decisions about what is best for their students, faculty and staff.”
However, the School of Law will hold a special ceremony for its graduates Sunday, May 16, and the School of Pharmacy will have theirs Saturday, May 22.
Duquesne School of Nursing students will participate in an in-person BSN pinning that will recognize them with a combination diploma and pinning ceremony, where students will wear a cap and gown.
Peyton Mikulich, a senior nursing student, said that while she likes Duquesne’s graduation plans, “more than two people per student should be allowed to attend.”
“As a nursing student, I understand how crucial safety is when it comes to protecting each other from COVID-19,” Mikulich said. “I do think there are ways to make it safe, such as having two days for the ceremony. The university could have one day where half the class graduates, and another day have the other half of the class graduate.”
Although the plan is subject to change due to the fluid nature of COVID-19, Gormley wrote that he is “optimistic that [Duquesne] will be able to execute our plan.”
“I hope we will be able to celebrate this historic occasion on Commencement day, together, recognizing not only what our graduates have achieved academically during this time of immense challenge, but all of the great things that lie ahead for each of them,” Gormley wrote.
CORRECTION, 3/18 at 4:23 p.m.: This article has been updated to reflect that Duquesne School of Nursing students will participate in an in-person BSN pinning that will recognize students with a combination pinning and diploma ceremony. It was previously reported that the School of Nursing would have a completely virtual Commencement. The Duke apologizes for the error.