Administrators explain plans for May commencement ceremonies

By Tatyanna Carman

Rider anticipates hosting as many as 14 in-person commencement ceremonies for the classes of 2020 and 2021 from May 14 to May 16,

according to a statement from Manager of Special Events and Projects Nadège Toth and Director of the Living and Learning Community Beverly Braddock. 

According to their statement, the exact number of ceremonies will be determined by “how many class of 2020 graduates [and] class of 2021 candidates indicate they will attend.” Toth and Braddock said that graduates and students were asked to RSVP by April 2 with their intention to participate in commencement.

“The in-person ceremony length is approximately one hour and will include a student processional, national anthem, remarks from the President, conferral of degrees and the presentation of graduates,” said Toth and Braddock in their statement. “The focus is on recognizing and celebrating our graduates; names will be read aloud and students will cross the stage, collect a diploma cover and have professional photos taken.” 

According to Toth and Braddock, the Westminster Choir College class of 2021 ceremony will be held in-person on the Lawrenceville campus in the afternoon of May 14, while the class of 2020 ceremony will be held on Dec. 11, 2021, at the Princeton University Chapel as part of the annual Readings and Carols weekend. The class of 2021 undergraduate degree ceremony will be held on May 15 and the class of 2021 graduate degree ceremony will be held on the morning of May 16. The class of 2020 graduate and undergraduate degree ceremony will be held on the afternoon of May 16. 

“As of March 25, more than 320 graduates have indicated they will attend the Class of 2020 ceremonies and over 500 students have indicated that they will attend Class of 2021 ceremonies,” the statement said. “We do expect these numbers to rise as the April 2 deadline approaches.” 

Toth and Braddock said the ceremonies will take place under two large tents located on the campus green and in the field behind Daly Dining Hall. Each tent will be able to accommodate up to 150 students and 300 guests, according to Toth and Braddock. The ceremonies will alternate between the two tents.

“Rider is committed to hosting a memorable and safe commencement experience for graduates and their guests,” Toth and Braddock said. “All graduates and guests attending commencement will need to follow event guidelines as determined by the CDC, State of New Jersey and Rider University. Social distancing guidelines will be followed and masks will be required to be worn at all times, using two tents for consecutive ceremonies allows time to thoroughly clean and sanitize each area between ceremonies. We will ask people to arrive no earlier than 30 minutes prior to their assigned ceremony start time. It is also important to note that our ability to host these outdoor ceremonies is contingent upon state gathering guidelines.”

Senior communication studies major Regina Askew-Jones said that she thinks commencement is an important event to commemorate and she has been waiting a long time to walk across that stage and receive her diploma. 

“Along with wanting to celebrate my achievement, this is a monumental moment for my family as well,” she said. “Out of 17 of my grandmother’s grandchildren, I am the first to complete a four-year degree. This is not just for me, but for my entire family.”

Askew-Jones also said that she believes Rider is doing a great job at abiding by guidelines while also trying to satisfy students. 

“Whatever it takes to walk across the stage, I do not mind,” said Askew-Jones. “I appreciate Rider’s effort, instead of simply blowing it off. More specifically their efforts at including the class of 2020 as well.” 

Senior film major Victoria Grisanzio said she will be attending the May commencement ceremony because she feels that it will be safe since it is outside and spaced out. She also shared her thoughts on Rider having in-person ceremonies. 

“I think if handled accordingly, it is a good decision. The last four years have been filled with long days and hard work, and the last year has been hard enough on everyone,” Grisanzio said. “If we can host graduation in person safely, then I think it is a good idea. I think it should be as controlled as possible, and if vaccine numbers weren’t rising I think my opinions would be very different.”

Toth and Braddock said that the decision to have in-person ceremonies included input from student leaders who made it clear that students wanted an in-person ceremony. 

Askew-Jones said, “Although it is limited to two guests, having my parents there to see me in-person as well as my fellow peers is quite different than watching it virtually. The energy is not the same. I haven’t had a virtual graduation before, but I know what high school graduation was like with the presence of all of my family, friends and fellow peers. Although we can’t recreate that moment entirely, this is the hand we have been dealt. We have to accept it and readjust the areas necessary.” 

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Toth and Braddock added that the in-person commencement ceremonies are planned with the assumption that large in-person outside gatherings will be allowed by May and “should pandemic restrictions continue further into the spring, we will need to re-evaluate our plans.” 

“We understand how important it is for students to be recognized for their achievements and celebrate with their families. We all miss being on campus and look forward to this opportunity to celebrate together,” said Toth and Braddock. 

Caption: According to a statement from Manager of Special Events and Projects Nadège Toth and Director of the Living and Learning Community Beverly Braddock, the decision to have in-person ceremonies included input from student leaders. (This photo was taken prior to the coronavirus pandemic.) 

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