State allowing graduation ceremonies, with some restrictions


Photos courtesy of SUNY New Paltz

As students across New York reach the end of their school years, those preparing to graduate have received updated guidance to carry out in-person graduation and commencement ceremonies from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The new guidance will be effective May 1, the beginning of graduation season for many state schools, colleges and universities. The guidance allows for both indoor and outdoor ceremonies at limited attendance capacity.

The decision to allow for these ceremonies to take place follows the lifting and easing of many public gathering restrictions throughout the state and a general decline in COVID cases while the vaccines are distributed to state residents above the age of 16.

Cuomo’s new guidance for graduation celebrations now allows for in-person gatherings that maintain or maximize social distancing. In celebrations that maintain social distancing all attendees must wear masks, remain at least six feet apart, provide contact information (one per family), fill out a preliminary health screening, wear protective face coverings and limit movement throughout the location.

“We’re once again approaching the end of the academic year which means we need strict rules in place to ensure commencement ceremonies are done safely in the context of the ongoing pandemic,” Cuomo said. “With more people getting vaccinated every day, we are so close to the light at the end of the tunnel, but we all need to continue being vigilant and I am urging everyone to celebrate smart.”

Outdoor events are allowed varying capacities between 20% and 50% depending on the size of the venue.

For example, large-scale ceremonies of more than 500 people at outdoor venues will be limited to 20 percent of capacity, applicable to venues with a total capacity of 2,500 or more. Medium-scale ceremonies of 201-500 people at outdoor venues will be limited to 33 percent of capacity. And Small-scale ceremonies of up to 200 people or 2 attendees per student at outdoor venues will be limited to 50 percent of capacity. 

The capacity guidelines are more strict for indoor events.

Students, families and lawmakers have been asking for these allowances as students have had much of their educational experiences turned on its head. Senator Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, had previously asked the Department of Health to issue new safety guidelines for these ceremonies earlier this month. 

Tedisco said in a statement “Walking across a stage to accept your high school and college diploma as your family and friends cheer you on is a rite of passage and a special memory that’s part of growing up and moving on to the next stage in our lives.”

Much of the state is opening up again gradually as a part of the state’s efforts to reignite the economy. Sporting events at outdoor stadiums and large venues are allowed to reopen at 20% capacity. Additionally, events, arts and entertainment venues can reopen at 33% capacity.

Events that exceed 100 people indoors or 200 people outdoors require notification of their local health department as well as proof of negative COVID tests. 

As the state reopens and vaccine eligibility opens to younger populations those in schools and attending college or university await the return to normalcy on their campuses.