UNC, Duke plan for in-person graduation ceremonies — but Duke will only allow seniors to attend

Durham County News

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – On Thursday, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announced that it plans to give seniors the option to attend an in-person graduation ceremony in May.

According to a news release, UNC-CH plans to split up the spring commencement into three different smaller ceremonies that will be held over the course of three days from May 14-16.

Seniors are allowed to invite up to two guests. Faculty members are being asked to watch the ceremony through a live stream.

UNC-CH officials said the decision to hold in-person graduation comes after consulting with the Orange County Health Department, infectious disease experts, and the class of 2021.

In addition, university officials said Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, two of the nation’s leading COVID-19 researchers and strategists, will deliver this spring’s commencement address at Carolina.

Officials said the two researchers will speak virtually at all three ceremonies.

Senior Sharanya Uchil said she was thrilled when she heard that she’ll be able to attend her graduation in person.

“I was not expecting it at all and I think after the year that we’ve had, it’s exciting news,” Uchil said. She said the two guests she will invite will be her parents.

“I can’t imagine doing it without my parents, they’ve been there for me throughout all of this,” Uchil said.

Just down the road at Duke University, officials there are also planning on holding in-person graduation for students on Sunday, May 2, from 9 to 11 a.m.

However, Duke officials said that only graduating seniors are allowed to attend and they are encouraging family and friends to watch the graduation through a livestream.

“We’re upset and we’re not alone in this. A lot of parents are upset,” said Bart Noonan. His daughter is graduating from Duke this May.

Noonan said that he and several other parents of Duke students are upset they will not be allowed to attend the ceremony in person.

“My daughter is graduating from Duke University. She’s put in so much hard work. We’re so proud of her, and we cannot share in this monumental moment with our child,” Noonan said.

He argued that if UNC-CH can find a way to safely allow guests to attend an in-person commencement ceremony, then Duke should be able to do the same thing.

“I know the pandemic is a real thing and we’ve lost a lot of lives,” Noonan said. “But things are loosening up, the vaccine is in place, and the numbers are going down. It’s time for us to get back to living — not only existing, but living.”

Duke officials said earlier this week that these graduation plans are tentative. If conditions improve, they could allow guests to attend.

However, if the pandemic gets worse, officials said the graduation could be all virtual.

Late Thursday, Duke’s Vice President of Public Affairs and Government Relations, Mike Schoenfeld, sent CBS 17 the following statement.

“Duke’s highest priority since COVID-19 upended our lives a year ago has been protecting the health and safety of students and the entire university community. Our plan for commencement is consistent with the comprehensive approach the university has taken since the start of the academic year, which has made it possible for Duke students to be on campus safely and with minimal interruption. We are monitoring guidance from public health experts, and should conditions continue to improve, we will consider making changes.”

Currently, both UNC-CH and Duke are offering a virtual option for students who do not wish to attend in-person.

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