A year after the coronavirus pandemic either put college commencement ceremonies on hold or forced them online, some schools are once again planning to hold in-person ceremonies, albeit ones that will look different than the way many people remember them.
The changes are putting a damper on the planned ceremonies at both Merrimack College in North Andover and Stonehill College in Easton, where soon to be graduates argue they’re unnecessary.
Merrimack College will hold an in-person ceremony on May 13, but won’t allow graduates to walk across the stage and accept their diplomas. Stonehill College, on the other hand, won’t allow any guests at its ceremony, which is slated for May 15.
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The upset students at each school have started online petitions to try to get their colleges to reconsider.
“We wanted to have our parents. We thought it was really important, and we thought that Stonehill would be able to allow that outside,” said Madison Hitchcock, a senior at Stonehill College who started the petition with two friends. “We thought it would be good enough to have our parents there and social distance outside.”
There is some evidence that the Stonehill College petition, which already has more than 1,500 signatures, is having an impact.
“Our past meeting that we had this Monday — they recognized that we dropped off the petition to them and they will be talking more about it and see what else they can do....” said Emma Dejoie, who’s also a senior there.
Under Massachusetts guidelines, colleges and universities are allowed to permit each graduate to invite up to six guests.
In a statement Thursday afternoon, Merrimack College announced that it is reviewing its commencement plans, writing, in part: “This is being reviewed to figure out how we could logistically pre-stage students to read their names and have them walk onto the stage. To be clear, we will do everything possible to have students walk across the stage and to read student names.”
The college noted that allowing students to walk across the stage would depend upon several factors, including how many graduates pre-register to attend the ceremony.
Stonehill College didn’t respond to a request for comment.