SDSU and USD to host in-person graduation ceremonies this spring Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO)– Both South Dakota State University and the University of South Dakota have announced that they will be hosting in-person graduation ceremonies this year. This is a big milestone for most students graduating, so it is important for them to attend in-person.

“For me, I am one of the first kids in my dad’s side of the family to graduate with a four year degree and I am one of the first grandkids and my parent’s first child, so for them to see the first one kind of succeed and have a visual representation of is a good, heartwarming experience for them and for myself,” Madison Kovarna, senior Animal Science student at SDSU said.

Kovarna said her biggest concern with in-person graduation is if there is a limit on those who can attend, if it is limited to under four people per graduate, she will have to chose between inviting her parents or her grandparents, which is a decision she would rather not make.

“It is going to be kind of that ending note, where I get to see all my friends, my professors get to congratulate me and I get to tell them everything that I enjoyed about college and it’s just that very ending feeling,” Kovarna said. “You walk away you’re like ‘I completed this, I got to thank all those who were with me and for me’.”

South Dakota State University:

Last year, spring ceremonies were hosted virtually because of the pandemic. SDSU has implemented a task force to plan for the ceremony as well as surveying students to see what they would like to have as far as graduation goes, said Jamison Lamp, University Events Coordinator at SDSU. They incorporated their members from the Student Association as well to include their insight into the planning process.

“What we really heard was that students wanted closure and they wanted some form of in-person something,” Lamp said. “And so what that group really did was look at how we can make that happen.”

He said the other thing they heard from the student survey was that students wanted to walk across the stage and have an audience attend. Lamp said they are moving forward with those topics in mind and hoping to be able to go through with that.

“I think graduation is one of those days that impacts everyone differently,” Lamp said. “For some people it’s very celebratory, for some people it’s incredibly emotional, and a lot of that has to do with the path that you took getting to college or the work and the different paths and the nature of getting through four or five or six years of college to earn that degree.”

Some of the biggest changes that SDSU will be making to their graduation ceremony this year include hosting the ceremonies over two different days, ceremonies will be divided by colleges, rather than having two undergraduate ceremonies and one graduate ceremony, they are looking to host the event will be hosted outdoors in the Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium and social distancing guidelines will be enforced.

“We are really committed to doing these ceremonies in-person and we are going to make that happen the best we can,” Lamp said.

SDSU President Barry Dunn said they are excited to be able to have in-person graduations and be able to celebrate with the students, both from this semester and last year.

“We are all excited to get started on a path back to normal,” Dunn said. “These young people that will be graduating with us have been through the abnormal, they have been through having classes cancelled a year ago after spring break and then going online and finishing online and then a very, the best we could, fall semester and a better spring semester, but still not normal. So, we admire their resilience and we want to celebrate that and their willingness to adapt and their determination to get a degree. I think it is absolutely critical that we celebrate with them in as normal of a way as we possibly can.”

SDSU will be hosting their ceremonies on May 8 and 9. On May 8, the ceremonies for the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences, the College of Natural Sciences and the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences will take place. The ceremonies for the College of Education and Human Sciences, the College of Nursing, the Jerome J. Lohr College of Engineering and the College of Pharmacy and Allied Health Professionals are scheduled for May 9.

The program during the ceremonies will look relatively familiar to those of past years, Lamp said. Students want those institutional and historical elements that are part of a graduation. He said you will see some of the pageantry in the manner that it has existed before, but there will be some alterations.

“At this point, I would say don’t expect a handshake, you know as you come across the stage,” Lamp said. “But certainly we are going to get you that diploma cover, we are going to get you the opportunity to have a photo op and we’re going to get you those take away items that feel like a normal year.”

Past graduates from Spring 2020, Summer 2020 and Fall 2020 will be able to walk in this spring’s ceremony at SDSU. There will also be students who chose to walk early, which is not new.

On an average year, SDSU expects to have around 1,500 to 1,800 graduates walk in the ceremonies, however this year they expect to have more since they will be welcoming back the spring 2020 graduates, Lamp said. They are planning to accommodate up to 2,000 graduates this year. That number is not the number of degrees, but they typically do see a good participation in their ceremonies, he said.

Right now, they are still working on plans for audience numbers. Currently, it is between four to six guests per graduate, but that number is still subject to change, Lamp said.

“Our real mission and real goal is to be able to get the largest number of graduates with the largest number of guests that we can, in a safe manner,” Lamp said.

The ceremonies will also be livestreamed for those who cannot attend in-person, which is something they have done for several years. They have had a strong participation in their livestreams and it meets their mission of access, Lamp said. He said that it is a celebratory day, not only for students and families, but for the community of Brookings as a whole.

They are currently creating several alternative plans for if the weather does not permit for the ceremonies to be held outdoors, Lamb said. They will ask for families to come prepared to be in the elements, but they will not put the guests in danger.

University of South Dakota:

USD will be holding an in-person graduation this year on May 8, moving it into the newly renovated Dakota Dome, to give them as much space as possible.

“This is something that they work for four years, sometimes longer,” said Laura McNaughton, Chief of Staff at USD. “It’s really important for them to be able to celebrate this accomplishment with their family and we just really feel like it is incredibly important for them to have that experience.”

That will probably result in some limited seating for family members, said Kurt Hackemer, Ph.D., Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. Right now, they are looking at about four to five family members per graduate. The ceremonies will be livestreamed for those who cannot attend in person, but they are hoping that as many people as safely possible can attend in-person.

“Graduation. This is the culmination of years of work on the part of our students and it’s a really important time, not only for the students but especially for the students and their families,” Hackemer said. “We want to give families the opportunity to celebrate this together, this is literally a once in a lifetime event and I think sometimes we try and make due during the pandemic with virtual, but this is one where in-person seems really important, so we are going to be able to pull it off.”

“Every student who wants to graduate in-person will be able to graduate in-person,” Hackemer said.

Hackemer said the ceremonies will be socially distanced, following the current South Dakota Board of Regents guidelines and wearing masks. Other than that, it should look a lot like regular graduation.

“The ceremony will look pretty much the same, the one thing that will be different will be limited individual contact,” Hackemer said. “You won’t see handshakes, that kind of thing. But, each graduate will walk across the stage, the way that they would walk across the stage in any other year, they will receive their diploma cover, they will have their picture taken with the president and then separately with their diploma cover.”

Seating will be clearly marked, Hackemer said. Details are still being sorted out, but they have a ticketing system, which is used for football games, that allows them to put family units in groups and have people separated in the stands. Graduates will all be seated at least six feet apart from one another. In between ceremonies, the space will be cleaned and disinfected.

Typically, the ceremonies are held in the Stanford Coyotes Sports Arena, which allows for a little more of an intimate atmosphere, Hackemer said. But with social distancing, that wasn’t really an option this year.

“We used to hold ceremonies in the dome, so that is something that we have done before,” Hackemer said. “It was never ideal then because the seating wasn’t quite right; the sound system wasn’t very good. But with that all being newly renovated this year, that venue should work well and should give us a lot more seating to work with to get as many family members in as possible.”

McNaughton said they are excited to be able to have room for this event and to be able to show off the facility that they just finished as well.

USD will have two ceremonies, one ceremony in the morning for undergraduates and one in the afternoon for graduate students.

December 2020 graduates will be able to walk in the spring graduation ceremonies. In October, they held an in-person ceremony for their spring 2020 graduates and they had a lot of graduates come back for that, Hackemer said.

They are expecting to have around 800 to 900 undergraduate students walk in graduation and somewhere around 400 and 500 graduate students, Hackemer said.

They have not gotten the RSVPs back yet, however they know that when they offered a ceremony to their spring 2020 graduates, they wanted to be there in person, so they are anticipating the same response this year, Hackemer said.

USD will have graduation speakers. This year, they are excited to welcome Rep. Dusty Johnson to be their commencement speaker, Hackemer said.

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