For weeks, I was deliberating about whether I should attend my commencement. Although I’m getting my Bachelor of Science in a week, my three summer courses start the next week, followed by my master’s courses in the fall.
Ultimately, I decided not to RSVP. While I’m grateful the class of 2021 has an in-person graduation, unlike the College of Public Health’s class of 2020, I’d rather wait until next year when I can hopefully invite my friends and family to see me walk across the stage unmasked.
This year’s graduating class has reason to celebrate; completing senior year entirely online is a momentous feat. But I urge other seniors to celebrate the occasion safely. Students should attend commencement if they feel comfortable, but both vaccinated and unvaccinated students should follow pandemic protocol when celebrating after commencement.
On March 25, Temple University announced individual schools and colleges will hold in-person ceremonies with no guests permitted on May 6, 7, 20 and 21 at the Temple Sports Complex, Geasey Field, the Liacouras Center and the Temple Performing Arts Center, The Temple News reported.
I commend Temple for allowing the class of 2021 to walk, but commencement is not what students anticipate most. It’s the parties, dinners and trips.
Emily Rockenbach, a senior biology major, will be attending her in-person commencement on May 6 and travelling to Nashville, Tennessee, and Ocean City, Maryland, this summer. Despite being fully vaccinated, she is still wearing a mask and social distancing, she said.
“I encourage other students not to let their guard down even when they get vaccinated,” Rockenback said. “COVID still exists. There are people severely at risk. If not for yourself, adhere to social distancing and mask wearing for all of those people who do not have the same strong immune system that you do.”
Jaida Fenn, a senior biology major, is fully vaccinated and planning on going out to eat with her family and traveling to California after attending her in-person commencement.
“I am so thankful for the opportunity to graduate in person because it gives me the chance to see some of my friends and classmates for the last time in person,” Fenn said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people attending large gatherings wear a mask, stay a minimum of six feet apart, choose outdoor venues and get vaccinated first.
Temple is doing everything they can to protect their graduating class, but the safest way students can celebrate after commencement is by going outside and minimizing the number of people there, said Abby Rudolph, an epidemiology and biostatistics professor.
“The one issue that is still concerning is looking at the trends in Philadelphia in comparison to other regions,” Rudolph said. “We have to do our part so that we are not seeing an increasing rate of cases and variants with the co-occurring vaccination rate.”
On April 2, the CDC updated its travel recommendations. Fully vaccinated people can travel domestically or internationally, which is reassuring to students like Rockenbach and Fenn.
Fully vaccinated people can also gather indoors unmasked with other fully vaccinated people or unvaccinated people who are not at a high risk for COVID-19-related complications, according to the CDC.
Philadelphians aged 16 years or older were eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine starting April 16, The Temple News reported.
But students who aren’t vaccinated should still find ways to celebrate this accomplishment, like live streaming the ceremony or having a dinner party with people in the same household.
For students who are fully vaccinated, it’s safe to gather indoors without masks, but for students who aren’t fully vaccinated, they could celebrate graduation by going to a park, especially if it’s nice and sunny out, Rudolph said.
“You have to assess how comfortable you are in this situation and how much agency you have over yourself,” Rudolph added.
If the past year has taught us anything, it’s to be patient. Students don’t have to celebrate graduation at the same time as everyone else.
Although I won’t be truly celebrating until May 2022, I’m excited to pop open a bottle of champagne May 6.