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Northam's changes could put UVa graduation ceremonies back in person

There are graduation ceremony plans afoot at the University of Virginia.

Hours after Gov. Ralph Northam announced revisions to the state-mandated restrictions on graduation ceremonies, UVa President Jim Ryan took to Twitter to announce administrators were looking into reopening commencement ceremonies.

The university had canceled graduation events as the state and the school recovered from a post-holidays surge of COVID-19 cases.

Ryan said he expects some sort of announcement regarding the ceremonies by April 2.

“I’m delighted to report that, earlier today, Governor Northam announced that COVID-19 restrictions related to graduation ceremonies have been substantially — indeed, dramatically — revised,” Ryan tweeted late Wednesday.

“When we initially announced our plans for the Class of 2021 last month, ceremonies were classified as gatherings and subject to 25-person gathering rules, and we did not expect that restriction to change,” he tweeted.

Northam announced that in-person graduations would be allowed for elementary schools, high schools and colleges with outdoor ceremonies capped at 5,000 students or 30% of the venue capacity, whichever is lower.

Indoor ceremonies may have up to 500 people, or 30% of the venue capacity, whichever is lower.

“We are releasing this guidance early to allow schools to begin planning for this year’s events. While graduation and commencement ceremonies will still be different than they were in the past, this is a tremendous step forward for all of our schools, our graduates and their families,” Northam said in a prepared statement.

Northam cited vaccination programs in the state that have given 21.3% of the population at least partial immunity to the virus, with more than 1 million Virginians fully vaccinated.

An estimated 50,000 shots are being administered each day, Northam said, adding that “the vaccine program and the decrease in new COVID-19 cases make it safer to ease restrictions on activities like in-person graduations.”

Mask mandates, social distancing and other COVID protocols are still in force, but the increased capacities give the university some room to plan, Ryan said.

“The changes announced will allow UVa far more flexibility in planning a ceremony for the Class of 2021. I’m grateful to the governor for enabling us to envision a safe and meaningful graduation,” Ryan tweeted. “We will work hard over the coming weeks to craft a plan for how we can celebrate our graduating students, consistent with the new guidance.”

Early this month, Ryan announced that regular in-person graduation events would be canceled for the Class of 2021 with the possibility of holding modified events with graduates but without family and other guests or postponing graduation events to a future date. A virtual graduation would be held, however, Ryan had announced.

The Class of 2020, which saw its ceremonies canceled and moved to 2021, was told earlier this month that its ceremonies would again be postponed, until 2022. Ryan’s tweets did not directly address whether the 2020 graduates would see their events held this year, as well.


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