Rain or snow, Dixie State University’s 109th commencement ceremony will still happen on Dec. 11 at Greater Zion Stadium.
President Richard “Biff” Williams said when DSU received Gov. Gary Herbert’s mandate, the university reached out to the governor’s office and the Southwest Utah Public Health Department to make sure commencement was still meeting public health guidelines.
“The guidelines didn’t really change anything,” Williams said. “We’ll be able to socially distance, and then being able to use the entire football field to space the graduates really didn’t have an impact on whether or not we can follow the governor’s guidelines.”
Williams said the event will be livestreamed and have extra seating in the Cox Auditorium for those who are at high risk or who want to take extra precautions against COVID-19. He also said the ability to space people in the stands during the recent Utah High School Football State Championships proved that social distancing at commencement is doable, so DSU feels comfortable moving forward with commencement.
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“We’re estimating roughly 20-30% of students responded that they’re no longer coming, or that they would prefer virtual, which we can’t do,” said Provost Michael Lacourse, vice president of academic affairs. “We’re in the 350 range on the reconfirmation, but we’re still guessing it’s going to be in the 500 range.”
Megan Church, director of university events and promotions, said the initial number of people who RSVPed by August was 745 total, with 400-500 of those being from fall 2019, spring 2020 and summer 2020.
Stacy Schmidt, public relations and publications coordinator, said, “We have more graduates, and you know, biggest graduating class ever, but that’s the number that we heard from that wanted to be part of it.”
Williams said he expects around 3,000 people to be in the 10,000-seat stands around the stadium.
“We’re working hard on putting all the protocols together,” Williams said. “We’ll have to do things a little bit differently. You’ll see our platform; we usually have 40-50 people up there — we’ll have 18. And usually we have the graduates coming and I’m twisting back and forth handing it, [but] it will be a much slower pace, which [is] good; I usually do it fast so my love handles will work off, but it’s never worked.”
Williams said all faculty are typically required as part of their contract to attend commencement, but that requirement has been lifted in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We want to make sure that we’re not forcing anybody to come,” Williams said. “We want to make sure that we can celebrate and everybody’s happy and wants to support the students.”
Lacourse said the DSU administration is hoping for sunny 50-degree weather, but if there are inclement conditions, students will likely be ushered into the M. Anthony Burns Arena and other attendees will be dispersed in other buildings on campus.
“The only thing that will delay this is rain, and we’ll do a couple two-hour delays; if it’s snowing, we’re having it,” Williams said.
Schmidt said the commencement website and its instructions for attending are currently up to date. According to the website, the Grad Fair is still scheduled for Dec. 9 and 10 at the Alumni House and Grad Night has yet to be determined.
“Grad Fair is going to be limited hours,” Williams said. “Grad Fair will be mostly you come in, you get your gown, you get the information you need, and then you leave, so it’s not going to be as festive as it has before.”
Lacourse said the decision to have commencement in person on Dec. 11 rather than postpone it further is based on what students indicated they wanted, and that’s what’s most important to the DSU administration.
“We want to make sure if it really means something to you that you have that opportunity to walk across the stage and hear your name, and have your parents come and your family come celebrate with you,” Williams said.
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