Lila Cumming is a news reporter for the Vermont Cynic, where a version of this article was first published.
The University of Vermont will not require graduates and guests attending spring commencement ceremonies to show proof of vaccinations, but it will implement other standard Covid-19 safety precautions.
UVM 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 will allow 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, according to the university’s website. Masking, proper distancing, and other health and safety protocols will remain in place.
Derr said enforcing the vaccination requirement will likely be a two-step process in which graduates will first have to write down the names of their guests, then the attendees will have to attest themselves that they are vaccinated for their tickets to be validated.
Derr said the university cannot ask attendees to send copies of their vaccination cards for verification because the cards would technically be medical records, which he said would require a more complicated process.
UVM is not allowed to acquire medical records because of health information privacy laws, according to the university’s website.
Derr said state agencies support of UVM’s plans and said it felt as if the university “got the full blessing of it.”
He 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 6 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.”
While graduates of summer 2020, fall 2020 and winter 2020 will be able to participate in the May ceremony, graduates of spring 2020 — the largest group — will not be included.
Last year, spring 2020 graduates were promised an in-person ceremony. However, members of that class were informed in an April 6 email that the event would once again be canceled.
“The range of health and safety restrictions imposed by the state of Vermont will preclude a spring 2021 in-person ceremony for the Class of 2020. Therefore, we ask for your continued patience,” according to a statement on the university website.
“We are delighted, however, to say we are working with the Alumni Association to have a special celebration for you when we can plan a gathering within university and state guidelines,” the statement said. “We also are pleased to announce that the Class of 2020 will have an opportunity to receive a UVM alumni sweatshirt compliments of the UVM Alumni Association.”
Derr said that between a possible lack of attendance, the difficulty of travel and the cap of 300 graduates per ceremony, the university didn’t see a way it could effectively manage inclusion of the spring 2020 graduates.
“I don’t think all of them would attend,” he said, “but the other challenge is those people that graduated last year are very likely not in Vermont anymore.”
The UVM website emphasized that the safety of the community remains the biggest priority and that the ceremony could pivot to an online experience if Covid health risks worsen.
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 email from Kelly O’Malley, coordinator of presidential events.
In an April 23 statement, Middlebury College announced that it also would be allowing two guests for each graduate at its May 29 commencement. The school said that “we do not have the ability to verify visitor vaccination status in a timely manner prior to the event and therefore must assume that all guests are unvaccinated.”
St. Michael’s College in Colchester also plans to allow each graduate at its May 13 commencement to invite two “fully vaccinated” guests.
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