In a brief email to the class of 2021 last week, President David Greene announced the College’s intention to allow two guests per student at an in-person commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 23, in addition to live streaming the event. This decision came amid an ongoing national conversation about reopening during ongoing vaccination efforts despite COVID-19 cases continuing to be on the rise for the fourth week in a row.
Brian J. Clark, the Vice President of Planning at the College, stated that the college’s decision to allow each graduate to invite two guests “is based on the ability to safely distance outside on Miller Lawn, increasing vaccination rates in Maine and beyond, and our proven ability to manage the virus.”
Though the College is committed to permitting limited guests at graduation, Greene did note in his announcement that “given the ongoing uncertainty in the public health environment, we will need to continue to assess this plan; should it be deemed unsafe, we would need to make adjustments.” If cases continue increasing, particularly in Maine and on campus, as they have been at peer institutions, commencement plans will be changed.
The current COVID-19 travel restrictions require that all travelers coming into the state of Maine must either have a recent negative test, be vaccinated, have had COVID-19 in the previous 90-days, or quarantine for ten days upon arrival. Certain neighboring states are exempt from these restrictions, and additional restrictions are in place for those entering into Maine from a different country. The Maine Moving Forward plan, Maine’s reopening guide geared towards bolstering the summer tourism economy, predicts that the state will remove travel restrictions on all states by May 1, making it possible for graduation guests to travel into the state without restriction.
Waterville City Councilor Erik Thomas wouldn’t categorize the College’s decision as safe, but he said that “it’s an acceptable amount of risk in order to continue to move towards some sort of normalcy.” He also cited the importance of a graduation ceremony for seniors and their families.
Thomas also noted that though graduation will increase the amount of people travelling to Waterville, the end of May marks the beginning of Maine’s busy tourist season.
“The fact is we’re likely to have many tourists from out of state coming in for the summer season shortly thereafter,” he said.
Lenny Carver, the General Manager of the Waterville Holiday Inn Express, believes the college’s decision to allow graduation guests is safe as long as guests follow precautionary measures, such as mask wearing and social distancing. Carver noted how hard the pandemic has been on the tourism economy, particularly for hospitality, and expressed eagerness for people to start travelling again in accordance with state regulations. At his hotel, Carver has ensured that necessary COVID-19 precautions are in place such as masked staff and increased sanitation procedures in order to minimize the risk of transmission of COVID-19, particularly with guests from out of state.
Both Carver and Thomas agree that with the right precautionary measures, and hopefully good weather allowing people to dine outdoors, the risk to the Waterville community could be minimized to an acceptable level. Both also echoed the desire for a return to a semblance of normalcy and noted that with transitioning away from conservative restrictions there will always be a degree of risk.
Colby is not the only college in Maine planning on hosting an in-person graduation. Thomas College and Bowdoin College will be hosting in-person graduation ceremonies and permitting two guests per student. Bates College has also elected to have in-person graduation with two guests per student but will be splitting graduation up into two identical ceremonies on two different days in order to minimize the amount of people present at one time.
In the time leading up to graduation at the end of May, Colby will be continuously monitoring the public health environment in order to ensure that inviting guests to Mayflower Hill will be safe for both the Colby and Waterville communities.
~ Isabel Adler `21
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