Oberlin administrators, students, and parents are in the midst of Commencement planning after the College announced plans for a modified in-person ceremony on March 25. To comply with campus- and state-mandated COVID-19 restrictions, the event will be broken into two separate ceremonies with limited guests.
The two ceremonies will occur on May 14 at Bailey Field and will feature New York Times White House Correspondent Peter Baker as the Commencement speaker. Baker will speak at both ceremonies but it is not yet decided if he will speak in-person. Each ceremony will include 300 students, who can each bring two guests, in compliance with Ohio Department of Health guidance that caps outdoor events at 30 percent capacity.
Last spring, Oberlin hosted a virtual ceremony for the class of 2020, and many members of the class of 2021 didn’t expect to walk across the stage this year.
“[We thought] they were probably going to do what they did last year with the last graduating class — basically like the Zoom classes,” College fourth-year Gaurab Pokharel said. “We weren’t really expecting anything, but then it turned out for the better.”
Pokharel, like many other international students, won’t have his parents in attendance due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. Consequently, Pokharel was initially indifferent to the College’s approach to Commencement this year. However, the recent announcement of an in-person ceremony will allow Pokharel’s relatives living in the U.S. to attend.
Despite the overall excitement, some students are disappointed that they are only allowed two guest tickets each for the event. Several individuals have already put together a Facebook page to facilitate connections between students with extra tickets and those who are looking to bring additional guests.
College administrators are pleased that they will be able to host an in-person Commencement this year and hope the event will give departing fourth-years a sense of normalcy to conclude their college journey.
“The Commencement committee wanted to do everything [it] could to allow students to have an in-person experience,” wrote Director of Special Events and Student Life Operations and Assistant Dean of Students Jessica Bayer Crissman in an email to the Review. “We have a great team working on this year’s event. The team has brought an impressive level of energy and innovative thinking to make this year’s event memorable for the graduating seniors and their families.”
Obies aren’t the only ones excited about the ceremony — downtown Oberlin storefronts are ready to be part of what the owner of Ben Franklin & Mindfair Books Krista Long calls a “magical time of year.”
“Last year was so disappointing, mostly in terms of the joyfulness usually in that time period,” Long said. “It cost some businesses there too.”
Commencement typically brings a boom of business for downtown stores and restaurants as families arrive in Oberlin to celebrate their graduating fourth- and fifth-years.
With the pandemic taking a toll on local commerce, the in-person Commencement is an opportunity to make up for lost revenue. While the influx of guests also brings additional COVID-19 concerns, the College’s low positivity rates and the proliferation of vaccines is TKTK.
“There [is] some concern about, ‘Well okay, we’re gonna have a lot of people,’ but I think we’re all on board with doing what’s necessary to keep people safe,” Long said. “And I know for sure the College is [on board] with that and its students.”
Last week, the CDC updated its guidelines to allow fully vaccinated people to travel freely. However, it still advises against nonessential trips for those who are not yet two weeks post-vaccination. Pokharel believes people can safely come to Oberlin to participate in the celebration, given the low levels of COVID-19 in the College community.
“I’m not really too concerned because the school has been pretty good about COVID safety,” Pokharel said.
The event will mandate typical ObieSafe measures such as mask-wearing, social distancing, and temperature checks for all participants. Students will be required to provide either documentation that they are two weeks post-vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test between May 3 and 11.