Mary Grace von Thron, Campus Carrier deputy news editor
Taylor Corley, Campus Carrier editor-in-chief
Berry announced that commencement for the class of 2020 will be held Dec. 5 at 1:30 p.m. in the Vahalla stadium. Discussions regarding the date and time for the commencement ceremony have been taking place since spring of this year.
According to President Steve Briggs, because students had to leave abruptly at the end of March, the administration was eager to give graduates a ceremony as soon as possible. However, and increasing spread of COVID-19, that possibility became less and less realistic.
“When we couldn’t do it last May…in particular since we left abruptly after spring break students didn’t even get to see their friends when they were leaving, [students] were upset we couldn’t do a commencement so we said as soon as we have a chance to be able to do we’ll do it,” Briggs said. “With the governor’s executive orders through the summer it was very difficult to try to do anything, certainly not in May or June.”
When it became clear that Berry would be unable to have a commencement ceremony over the summer, administration began preparing for an alternative date later in the year.
“When the governor made it possible for larger groups to gather under certain conditions, we sent out a poll to all the students who are eligible to walk asking them what dates they prefer and which dates they were able to come to [Berry],” Provost Mary Boyd said.
The students were given the option of having commencement on Nov. 21, Dec. 5 or May 7 2021. The students ultimately chose Dec. 5.
“[Dec. 5] was also the one where most students were able to attend,” Boyd said.
So far, approximately 70% of the members of the class of 2020 have responded ‘yes’ when asked if they plan to come to commencement. Berry administration plans on calling students who have not replied yet. Since the class of 2020 was notified of the commencement date via their Berry email that many students no longer use, the administration also put the announcement out on various Berry Instagram pages as well as the commencement page website.
The administration is making sure that commencement follows the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s guidelines for safety during the pandemic. All of the decisions up to this point have been made with the attendees’ safety in mind, including the location.
“Valhalla is the best place to socially distance and spread out but still have a good viewing,” Briggs said. In addition to all the space on the field itself, then you have the homestands that give you the chance to sort of, people can see very well.”
According to Briggs, administration decided to host graduation over Christmas break because of how many people they were expecting to attend.
“We also said that realistically we would not be able to do it while we were in session in the fall because we wouldn’t let 1,000 people onto campus while we have students here,” Briggs said.
Currently, graduates are allowed to invite four guests. While graduates and their guests will not be required to take a COVID-19 test before coming onto campus, they will be required to wear a mask and socially distance themselves from those who are not in their respective parties.
“We will have six- foot distancing requirements and everybody will be required to wear a mask,” Boyd said. “We’re using all the same protocols that Berry College has had to use in order to mitigate viral transmission during the pandemic. Graduates and anybody attending- faculty and others- will be distanced six feet with a placement of chairs on Valhalla field. And then we will have pods of four seats, and each of those will be distanced by six feet.”
According to Briggs, students will only be allowed to remove their mask for a picture while on stage, and there will be no handshaking.
“Some of the things we love to do…we’re just not going to do it this year, but we will find other very appropriate and ceremonial ways of doing things,” Briggs said. “It will be a little bit different than we’ve normally done it but still very much the same, basic ceremony just with some modifications.”
John Coleman, Berry graduate from the class of 2004 and newest member of the Board of Trustees, will be this year’s commencement speaker.
“He spoke in the spring a year ago and did a great job, and because he’s nearby and because he loves Berry, he understands the uncertainty of everything it makes it a little easier to have someone who has been part of this for so long,” Briggs said.
During the summer, some members of the class of 2020 elected to have their diploma sent to them in the mail. If these students choose to come to commencement, they will receive a second diploma when they walk across the stage.
“We don’t want them to feel any less welcome and any less special because they have already received their diploma,” Boyd said.
Commencement will be streamed via the Berry website and other virtual platforms.