Roughly 1,800 graduates of Rowan University opted to attend in-person ceremonies on July 14, 15 and 16. With the 13 ceremonies fragmented into three days, students and their families had room to breathe.
Like many generations before, graduates marched onto the lawn of the historic Bunce Hall, this time sporting decorated masks. A carefully designed tent was put together with seating tailored to social distancing standards. Assistant Vice President of the Department of Public Safety and Office of Emergency Management Michael Kantner was present to help achieve this goal.
“This has taken three weeks of planning; it came from a collective effort,” Kantner said, “from parking them in a contained area to having them report to a contained area, as well as making it a ticketed event because of the governor’s decree of no more than 500 people due to COVID. We were able to have everyone here and see parents and loved ones.”
Part of the collective effort to effectively hold the commencement while maintaining a safe environment for immunocompromised visitors and the elderly included the Rowan Wellness Center and a team of student EMTs.
“Not everyone’s out there for hours on end. They are only here for a short time, making it so much easier for us to take care of the guests. I think my squad agrees this is much easier than past years,” Second Lieutenant of Rowan EMS Christine Pobega said.
With 30-minute ceremonies and quick clean-ups, Rowan gave a generation of students who lost a crucial piece of their senior year some form of closure. According to Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Kevin Koett, that closure was the whole purpose of these ceremonies.
“It was an important message to our students and their families. You want to put closure to your college education. The commencement is such an incredible moment for the university, the students and the parents,” Koett said. “Everyone is trying to do things the right way and safely. I think people will see the protocols we are putting in place, the cleaning procedures, the social distancing, and they could look at it as a model and say Rowan did it right for their students.”
These ceremonies come at a crucial moment for education as many look to the virtual landscape for the solution. Rowan is a great example of thinking outside the box in a way that is thought-out and calculated.
“It’s a big time in all of our lives, you might as well go for it, and they were pretty protective with the way they went about it,” said graduating communications major Thomas Burke.
“I was pleased because it was a lot of work to get here, and they need some recognition. They are facing a rough world going ahead, so even having a small ceremony like this gives closure to their college experience,” Burke’s mother, Susan Mitchell, said.
Compared to other universities in New Jersey, Rowan is the outlier; most opted to hold virtual ceremonies. This graduation could set a precedent for how schools can still operate in a more human — rather than digital — way.
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