2019 Marlan and Rosemary Bourns College of Engineering commencement on Monday, June 17, 2019.
(UCR/Stan Lim)

COVID-19 information and guidelines regarding county tier assignments and vaccine eligibility are changing at a rapid rate. Last week, Riverside entered the orange tier of California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy and opened up vaccine eligibility for residents 16 years and older following governor Gavin Newsom’s plan to fully reopen the economy on June 15. 

With these changes, UCR has announced that it will host in-person commencement activities for the graduating classes of 2020 and 2021. From Saturday, June 12 through Monday, June 14, graduates may sign up for blocks of time to walk across a stage individually as their name is read and have their photo taken on stage in academic regalia. The venue for the event has not been solidified but it may be held at the Student Recreation Center North Gymnasium or University Theatre. No guests will be permitted inside or around either facility and students will follow CDC Guidelines by wearing face coverings and maintaining social distance. Graduates will be able to remove their masks only to have their picture taken. The ceremony is set to be broadcasted live for family and loved ones to watch safely at home.

All participating students must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination before queueing at either venue, with a completed COVID Vaccination Record Card issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, students unable to receive the vaccine for medical or religious reasons must have a PCR-based coronavirus test performed no more than 48 hours before coming to campus.

The decision came just a few days after members of ASUCR released a commencement survey accompanied by the hashtag #LETUCRWALK. Fourth-year student and CHASS Senator Juan Morales said that within a few hours of releasing the survey Monday it had gained over 600 submissions and at the time of writing, the survey had 964 submissions. 92.9% of participants preferred an in-person commencement following safety guidelines.

The decision to advocate for an in-person commencement came after noticing other schools in surrounding areas doing the same, such as USC and UC Berkeley. UCR is the second UC to announce any plans for an in-person commencement. “I’m pleased UCR can provide this celebratory opportunity for our graduating students who have worked so hard to earn their degrees,” stated Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox in the April 7 announcement.

The announcement was received with mixed reviews from students, some were grateful for the opportunity to get to celebrate their graduation in-person in some capacity while others were concerned about the no guests rule. Fourth-year education and human development major Mayra Itzel Salas said in an interview with The Highlander that UCR could be doing much more to support students and listen to their concerns. While she understands the university’s obligation to keep students safe, she believes that an outdoor commencement ceremony following safety guidelines could still allow for guests to be in attendance. “I’m a first generation DACA student, the first in my family to graduate from a university, I feel that this is a huge accomplishment for me and my family and I would love for them to see me walk the stage … they worked so hard to allow me the privilege to reach higher education,” said Salas. 

Gabriel Trujillo, a third-year biology student also expressed his dissatisfaction with the in-person commencement restrictions. Trujillo stated that if students must show proof of vaccination to walk parents should be able to do the same. “The whole point of walking is for you to represent the people who helped you graduate. We wouldn’t sit in the hot sun for hours if it wasn’t for the cheers we get from our friends and family,” stated Trujillo.

ASUCR President Luis Huerta told The Highlander that the details of commencement are flexible and changes in the next few weeks are not impossible. “There’s a lot of room for flexibility and we just have to see what the nature of the coronavirus is looking like in a month,” stated Huerta. Huerta stated that he, along with other student representatives who are part of the Commencement Working Group will continue to advocate for the addition of guest tickets if the current CDC guidelines allow.

Morales shared similar sentiments stating that he will continue to advocate for the needs and wants of students because he understands the importance and meaning of commencement because many times for first-generation students it is the culmination of their parents decades long work to get them there. “Students deserve to have their parents be able to see them walk the stage,” he said.

The Commencement Working Group will meet several times in the next few months to solidify the details of Commencement 2021 and updates will be published on UCR’s commencement website.