Drive-in commencement honors 2020 grads amid COVID-19 restrictions


Lily Stotz

Graduates will still get to walk across the stage to accept their diploma, but the ceremony will take place in P1 on August 28, 2020. This shift is the result of continued social distancing because of COVID-19.

Winter 2020 grads are finally getting their commencement ceremony, but it’s not exactly what they might have been expecting. To comply with the executive orders set forth by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Oakland University is hosting a drive-thru commencement ceremony in parking lot P1 to honor their newest set of alumni. 

While the original suggestion of a drive-thru commencement was met with backlash when it was first announced on CNN back in May, Aug. 28 and 29 are fast approaching and the university was running out of safe options that comply with the regulations set forth by the state. Settling on a drive-thru commencement still allows graduates to walk across a stage to accept their diploma without risking the health of anyone involved. 

“I think this is going to be a great experience for the students in the climate that we’re in,” said Stephanie Lee, administrative associate in Academic Affairs. “Now with the COVID-19 virus, this is the best opportunity we thought of that will be good for the students.” 

Graduates and their family will be allowed one car, and they will tune in to the ceremony over the radio, where the remarks will be delivered on a big screen. The graduates will get out of their vehicles to walk across the stage to receive their diploma in their cap and gown as photos with graduates’ names, degrees and a personal message play on the screen.

The commencement fair will be virtual, but students will still be able to upload a photo and get their graduation regalia, departmental honors, parking pass and an electronic gift that will allow graduates to post on social media with special OU tags and filters. 

In a poll conducted by The Oakland Post in May on what style of ceremony graduates preferred, a drive-thru commencement polled in at 15%, the lowest of the four options presented. The other options included waiting for an in-person ceremony (39%), a social-distanced ceremony (28%) and a virtual ceremony (18%). 

In order to combat the different preferences, Academic Affairs is allowing all winter 2020 graduates — regardless of their attendance at the drive-thru ceremony — to attend the next traditional commencement ceremony, whenever that may occur. 

“We didn’t want to do a virtual one, we wanted to do something creative,” Lee said. “We could have just canceled it or postponed it — some other institutions just did that, just gave them a video saying ‘thank you for your time here,’ and we’re giving these students the opportunity to have something within the year in which they graduated.”

Having an in-person ceremony was just not possible because the university would be penalized for disregarding the governor’s executive orders. While some considered using the Meadow Brook Amphitheatre, it was quickly dismissed as an option when it presented limitations on parents and families of graduates to attend even within the outdoor space.

Despite the efforts put forth by Academic Affairs, not all plan to attend the drive-thru commencement. 

“I do not plan on attending because they are only allowing us to have one car, and coming from a really big family, that’s just not really possible,” said Mary Jindo, a graduate from the school of business administration. “Just to avoid conflict, I decided I’m not going to go.”

Even though Jindo does not plan to attend, she is grateful Oakland is doing something to honor graduates during the pandemic instead of canceling the ceremony like other universities across the state. 

“I really appreciate OU at least trying their best to accommodate us,” Jindo said. “I know a lot of major schools like MSU or U of M only did a virtual one, so they never even considered something like this. I definitely appreciate OU for trying.” 

To find more information on the drive-thru commencement, apply for graduation or request a parking pass, visit the OU website.