LIZ MONROE, News Editor—While plans for this year’s graduation were uncertain due to COVID-19, it is finally confirmed the class of 2021 will have an in-person commencement ceremony and a senior week full of traditional Denison festivities.
According to Raj Bellani, the Vice President and Chief of Staff for the Office of the President, planning for commencement typically begins the year before, about nine to ten months in advance.
“After the disappointment and challenges brought on by the pandemic last spring, the senior staff and President Weinberg really wanted to have an in-person experience including family members. It’s a day of celebration for our entire community,” Bellani said.
Typically, graduation at Denison is logistically familiar to those involved and there are various references from previous years.
This year, everyone involved in planning commencement had to start from scratch to adjust the event to fit COVID-19 state and county guidelines. According to Bellani, the Commencement Committee–a 50 person committee–worked closely with the Licking County Health Department to put a concrete plan together.
The main changes to this year’s commencement are that the ceremony will be held outdoors on the academic quad and there will be a strict limit of two guests per graduate in order to ensure safe social distancing can be maintained.
Additionally, graduation has been delayed by one week, mask wearing will be required and there will be technology to live streaming the event for those unable to attend. This year’s Commencement speaker is the Denison alumna The Very Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas ’79, and she will be virtually present for the event.
“This is a new beginning for graduates. They are commencing to the world around them and the staff is committed to ensuring students have a great experience,” Bellani said.
According to Bellani, the Commencement Committee received a lot of feedback from the student co-governors, students from the class of 2021, focus groups and parents of some graduating seniors who were interested in knowing what could be done for the graduates.
“Planning for graduation started months ago so we were predicting something far down the line and it was difficult. However, there were hopes that things would get better and that vaccines would eventually be mass distributed,” Bellani said.
As the co-governors of the class of 2021, Allen Primack and Fatimah Elghazawi helped plan commencement and senior week on behalf of the senior class. They worked closely to brainstorm COVID safe ideas for senior week and held a virtual drop in hour where students could share any ideas they had for commencement.
“There had been talk about having multiple ceremonies and allowing more guests instead of one ceremony with limited guests. But based on the feedback we received, seniors wanted to graduate all together,” Primack said.
According to Elghazawi, an international studies and French double major, meetings for planning took place mostly this semester, every three weeks. At these meetings, Patrick Fina and Dana Pursley from the CLIC office, Raj Bellani, and Bill Fox, the Dean of Students, gave a rundown of the behind the scenes work. Additionally, there were two full commencement meetings with the music department, logistics, catering, etc.
Primack, a global commerce, economics and data analytics triple major, found the biggest challenge in planning commencement to be reaching as many seniors as possible and having all meetings virtually. Additionally, the time-frame was challenging because usually co-governors start to plan at the beginning of fall semester. However, things were still very up in the air in the fall because of the pandemic.
For Elghazawi, figuring out how to build community and connect, despite the way things are going to be different because of COVID-19, was the biggest challenge. On the other hand, the most rewarding part of this experience for Elghazawi was the amount of care and people involved in planning commencement.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the senior class unite and spend the last days on campus all together as a cohort. All the events are very open and inclusive so I think there will be a lot of good conversations between people who wouldn’t typically talk to each other,” Primack said.
The full schedule of Commencement events can be viewed on Denison’s website.