With the Ithaca College’s Class of 2022 Commencement ceremony just three weeks away, some members of the Class of 2022 have expressed their thoughts on the lack of COVID-19 measures at this year’s Commencement.
The 2022 Commencement will be held indoors at Glazer Arena in the Athletics and Events Center and guests will be allowed to attend the ceremony in person for the first time since 2019. The college strongly recommends guests receive the COVID-19 vaccine prior to coming to the Commencement ceremony. Samm Swarts, assistant director of Emergency Readiness and Preparedness, said via email that the commencement organizers hope to offer an event with little–to–no COVID-19 restrictions in place and encourage guests to take precautions as they see fit.
On March 4, the college announced in an email that all individuals on campus, regardless of vaccination status, will not be required to wear face coverings indoors unless clearly marked and communicated otherwise. This includes guests and visitors.
In previous years, Commencement has been held outdoors at Butterfield Stadium. David Prunty, executive director of Auxiliary Services, said Commencement will be held indoors as opposed to outdoors largely because of the accessibility the A&E provides.
“There are two ceremonies because the capacity of the Glazer Arena requires two ceremonies in order to fit all of the graduating class plus up to six family members and supporters each, ” Prunty said. “Being inside ensures that the ceremonies can happen and the Glazer Arena provides better services including air conditioning and adequate restroom facilities.”
As COVID-19 restrictions have loosened, some students have voiced their concerns about the lack of restrictions at this year’s Commencement.
Senior Kellie Swensen said they created a petition called “We deserve a COVID-safe Commencement,” in light of the Tompkins County Health Department’s (TCHD) health advisory released April 27, which strongly recommended masking in public spaces. Despite the petition being created May 1, 177 people have signed it. Swensen said they are pleasantly surprised by the amount of signatures in such a short amount of time and hope people continue to support it.
“It’s going to be crucial to gain support quickly in the upcoming weeks because it’s going to take a significant number for the leadership to do anything about it, ” Swensen said.
As of May 4, there are 20,516 total positive COVID-19 cases in Tompkins County, including 97 new cases from May 4, and 13 active COVID-19 hospitalizations, according to the TCHD database. According to the college’s COVID-19 tracker, there are 18 active student COVID-19 cases, five active faculty cases and three active staff cases, as of May 4.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Tompkins County is currently a high–transmission area. The CDC recommends that community members in high–transmission areas wear masks indoors in public, get tested if they are symptomatic and stay up to date on COVID-19 vaccines.
Swensen said they think Commencement should be held outdoors and does not understand why the ceremony is held indoors. They said they are not sure if they will be attending Commencement because they have a chronic illness and do not feel safe with the lack of restrictions.
“It’s so incredibly unfair to be put in a position to decide whether we’ll be able to celebrate amongst the people we care about,” Swensen said. “It shouldn’t be a choice we have to make because we are just as deserving to walk across that stage as everyone else is.”
Senior Catherine Fox said she is slightly worried about the lack of restrictions, because of the result of a potential COVID-19 breakout. However, she thinks the school knows what it’s doing and will find ways to make students feel safe.
“I could see them putting a change almost in terms of mask requirements or testing just to keep the community safe,” Fox said. “I just think it really depends on what the next two weeks look like, for Commencement, but I think there might be a change.”
Senior Ally Barret said that while she is not concerned about the lack of restrictions, she understands how individuals who are immunocompromised would be and hopes the college can make accommodations for those students.
“I think we still all need to be cautious and be aware that it’s something that is still extremely prevalent and something that’s going on,” Barret said. “Maybe the school could find some sort of place for people who are a little bit more nervous. They could have half of the A&E and be six feet. That whole section could be a mask section.”
Swarts said the Office of Public Safety and Emergency Management will continue to look at the latest guidance from Tompkins County and New York state and will update the campus community on any changes that might need to be made.
“We need to remember that COVID-19 has changed drastically from where we were two years ago,” Swarts said. “I want to recognize that many folks still are not comfortable with our current circumstances and we must respect those individuals. We will have an ample supply of KN95 masks available at commencement ceremonies for individuals who would like an upgraded, high–quality mask.”