Georgetown University will revise commencement plans following changes to Washington, D.C. COVID-19 regulations and advocacy from community members in response to the university’s initial decision to hold a virtual commencement ceremony.
Last month, the university announced that commencement ceremonies would take place virtually with the possibility of small in-person gatherings, contingent on public health conditions. In response to this announcement, community members launched an online petition calling for a masked and socially distanced in-person ceremony, which garnered over 2,200 signatures. The Georgetown University Student Association also worked with the university to improve the original virtual plan.
The university is now working to finalize and submit commencement plans for approval that include an in-person component following changes to Wasington, D.C. COVID-19 restrictions, according to an April 13 email from President John J. DeGioia (CAS ’79, GRD ’95).
The senior class is optimistic about the university’s reconsideration and hopes the new plans will allow them to celebrate graduation in person, according to Robert Steer (SFS ’21), who signed the petition.
“All of my friends and I were thrilled to hear the news and would be extremely grateful for the opportunity to invite our families to D.C. this May,” Steer wrote in an email to The Hoya. “The email certainly makes our whole class feel heard and gives hope that the administration is making its student body the priority rather than its balance sheet.”
Last week, the D.C. Mayor’s Office released updated COVID-19 guidelines for in-person commencement ceremonies, mandating mask-wearing and requiring a 25% capacity in any space. The updated guidelines have allowed the university to reconsider and restructure its plans to host at least some portions of commencement in person, according to DeGioia’s email.
However, the university should have been more creative in forming its original commencement plan, according to Steer.
“I think the reason why it’s really important is because the school has sort of said that an in-person graduation and keeping public health as the number-one priority are mutually exclusive. I think the leadership needs to know that so many Hoyas disagree,” Steer said in a Zoom interview with The Hoya. “Every single person that I’ve talked to, every single parent that I’ve talked to has at least five different ideas on how an in-person graduation could work with just a little creativity.”
The university is grateful for community feedback to its initial plan, and administrators are hopeful that there will be a finalized plan in place soon, according to DeGioia’s April 13 email.
“The importance of this day in the lives of our students is at the forefront of our planning, as we work to adjust to this new health guidance,” DeGioia wrote.
In addition to the petition, GUSA worked with administrators to alter the commencement plans to include some kind of in-person event for graduating students, according to Melanie Cruz-Morales (COL ’22), GUSA Speaker of the Senate.
“Seniors have been robbed of their entire senior experience, and after such a dark year, we hope to end the year with a sense of light — that being an in-person ceremony, that really celebrates and acknowledges the resilience of so many students who powered through such an unprecedented experience,” Cruz-Morales wrote in an email to The Hoya.
While graduation plans are under reconsideration, the university still plans to invite first-year and transfer students to campus this summer for the Summer Hilltop Immersion Program, a five-week, in-person experience meant to introduce new students to life at Georgetown. Graduation is scheduled for May 14 to 23, and SHIP is scheduled to begin June 4, only two weeks later.
If first-year and transfer students can come to campus for an in-person program, then the university should be able to organize an in-person graduation event, according to Linda Wen (COL ’21), who originally chose not to sign the petition because she lacked confidence the university would change its decision in response to community advocacy.
“The fact that Georgetown is bringing freshmen to campus shows that they have the ability to do something in person, at the very least, for the seniors,” Wen said in a Zoom interview with The Hoya. “Especially after this last year of not getting the usual activities seniors would get, like senior week and senior picnic, it just feels like graduation is the bare minimum.”
Other Washington, D.C. universities intend to incorporate in-person elements into their ceremonies. George Washington University plans to have a mostly virtual ceremony with several in-person opportunities, and American University submitted a proposal for in-person elements to the D.C. health officials.
While there is no concrete plan in place yet, the university’s reconsideration indicates that the administration might finally be listening to student concerns, according to Wen.
“I think I’m overall feeling cautiously optimistic and I guess it feels like they are responding to the outcry that the initial decision sparked,” Wen wrote in a text to The Hoya.