ITHACA, N.Y.—At least one college will be holding an in-person celebration for the Class of 2021, after Ithaca College announced Thursday that their ceremony will be held in-person after months of discussions and waiting on a decision. No guests of students will be allowed to attend the ceremony itself.

The event will be held on Sunday, May 23 for undergraduate students and Friday, May 21 for graduate students. Undergraduate students who do not feel comfortable attending will be able to have their own individual virtual celebrations, while graduate students will be able to attend their ceremony virtually. The announcement was made in a letter to the campus community signed by President Shirley Collado, Provost La Jerne Cornish and members of the Commencement Committee.

Local Ithaca businesses annually look forward to commencement ceremonies for Cornell University, Ithaca College and Tompkins-Cortland Community College for a significant revenue boost before students leave for the summer and the Ithaca population shrinks precipitously. The need for an economic boon has become even more acute because of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on small businesses.

The school further announced that they are utilizing Professors Chrissy Guest and Steve TenEyck, who will design the ceremony and ensure that throughout the procession and event safe distance will be maintained. More information is available about testing protocols and rules for attendance.

“Because of our commitment to center our graduating students’ ability to celebrate together as a class and due to our ongoing and necessary compliance with New York State guidelines, we cannot accommodate guests at Commencement or our graduate ceremony,” the school announced. “Please note as well that our campus’s COVID-related visitor policy will remain in effect. This is far from ideal, and our hearts ache along with yours. However, we must keep the focus on our students while ensuring our ability to comply with health and safety regulations. We will provide a webcast of both ceremonies for parents and loved ones to be able to share in this special moment, which will include opportunities for family and friends to see and be seen by their graduating student, via Zoom, as they cross the stage.”

Students will also not be grouped by school, but will have the option to participate in “groups of friends and classmates.” More details on that will be released in the coming weeks.

Cornell University has not announced its plans for commencement, though at a Greater Ithaca Town Hall on Thursday school officials said that they were still waiting on further guidance from New York State and the Centers for Disease Control on potential density guidelines. They further shared that whatever form the ceremony eventually takes, it likely will not be the traditional event at Schoellkopf Field. School officials had previously expressed doubt that they would be able to have a full in-person ceremony.

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com