MANCHESTER, NH – While all other colleges and universities in the state have either postponed or cancelled their class of 2020 in-person commencement ceremonies to later this or next year, Rivier University in Nashua has recently announced that it will host a live ceremony at Delta Dental Stadium — where Fisher Cats games are usually hosted — in Manchester on Sunday at 10 a.m.
Though the university conferred 544 degrees to 2020 graduates, about 240 are expected to attend the ceremony. Full health and safety protocols will be implemented in conjunction with Manchester Public Health, according to Kurt Stimeling, vice president of student affairs.
“When we postponed our May commencement ceremony, we communicated to our students that, to the best of our ability, we would celebrate their graduation in person when able to do so, following health and safety guidance from the state of New Hampshire and public health guidelines,” Stimeling wrote in an email.
“Students told us that they did not want a virtual ceremony last May and they did not want their graduation to be combined with next year’s graduating class. We wanted to celebrate their accomplishments in a way they deserved following best health and safety practices,” he added.
This Sunday’s graduation won’t be a typical one. When reserving tickets, guests must fill out a JotForm certifying that they haven’t travelled outside New England or experienced symptoms of COVID-19. Temperatures are checked before entering the stadium and masks are required. Students and their guests will enter and leave the stadium on a staggered schedule and sit alphabetically by last name to allow for easier contact tracing if necessary.
Manchester has the most coronavirus cases in the state of New Hampshire, with 1,838 cases as of Wednesday afternoon. Twenty-somethings are also now the group with more COVID-19 infections than any other age group in the state, according to the most recent data.
In Rivier’s class of 2020 private Facebook group, some students said they were disappointed because they lived in other states and were unable to attend the graduation. Others thought an in-person graduation was a bad idea and could be unsafe for attendees.
Yesterday, Keene State College announced that they would be hosting a virtual graduation on October 3 instead of an on-campus ceremony as originally planned. In a Facebook post, the college wrote that “ensuring safety precautions for such a large gathering of people from all over New England and beyond, is not possible.”
Some community colleges have commencement ceremonies planned for September, while other schools like Dartmouth, Granite State College and New England College, have already planned to invite the class of 2020 back to campus for a commencement ceremony and celebration in spring 2021.
But while Delta Dental expects up to 1,250 people to attend, the New Hampshire Fisher Cats Director of Hospitality and Special Events Stephanie Fournier says it’s an event that they’re well prepared for: Rivier’s will be their 12th and final in-person graduation this summer, having already hosted other high school and middle school events. It’s their first college or university graduation, Fournier said.
“I think everything went very smoothly because we did reach out. We were trying to be proactive so that we didn’t have any hiccups,” Fournier said. “We worked with the department of education and the department of health and human services at the state level to ask for guidance, and based off of what they said…we put together an 8-10 page plan of what we were going to do. We had quite a plan in place before the actual events.”