Last spring, the coronavirus pandemic postponed, canceled, rescheduled or altered the format of graduation ceremonies across the region — and nation.
One year later, Chattanooga colleges are finalizing new ceremonies to celebrate graduates while still adhering to pandemic safety measures.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga has nine ceremonies planned for April 21-25, where undergraduate students can sign up for the time slot they prefer. The model for the spring ceremony came from the winter commencement, which was held on Chamberlain Field, and winter commencement was planned as a response to the student feedback on the school's virtual ceremony last August.
This spring, about 200 graduates with up to four guests per graduate can be part of each ceremony at McKenzie Arena.
"One of the bits of feedback we got from the students is they wanted to be able to share the experience at least with a limited number of guests and so with the outside venue, we didn't think we'd be able to have as much control over the number of guests and/or the guests' behavior," said UTC provost Jerold Hale. "We knew from basketball season and some other things that if we did them indoors at McKenzie Arena, we could still do it in a way that would be safe, that would allow us to have social distancing, that would allow us to enforce mask protocols that we have for the campus."
At Cleveland State Community College, two ceremonies will take place on May 7-8 in the school's gym, with about 130 graduates per ceremony. Each graduate can bring two guests and people will be spread out to maintain social distancing.
Last year, the school held virtual commencements in July and December but opted for in-person ceremonies this spring with the school's normal COVID-19 protocols, like masks and social distancing, in place.
"Lots of changing factors and talking with our students, they made it real clear they were not interested in a virtual graduation — they wanted to walk across that stage, they made that really clear," said Cleveland State President Bill Seymour. "Priority one was walking across the stage, number two having some people there to watch it, so we worked really hard on how we might do that with social distancing and everything else."
Chattanooga State Community College's graduation will mirror graduation last spring, with graduates divided into groups of 20 for mini-ceremonies, with six guests per graduate. There will be 35 ceremonies taking place in the gym May 10-13, where people will be seated in pods and enter and exit through separate doors.
"I think it allows us to strike a balance between wanting to have an in-person celebration with our graduates because there's a lot to celebrate, and also to honor our commitment to doing things in a way that's safe," said Brad McCormick, assistant vice president for enrollment services at Chattanooga State. "So the format with the very low number of graduates per time slot allows us to keep everybody nice and spread out, but still be together physically."
Contact Anika Chaturvedi at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592.