University plans for in-person spring commencement ceremonies


Photo courtesy of Oakland University

Spring commencement ceremonies will take place at the O’rena on Thursday, April 28 through Saturday, April 30.

Spring 2022 commencement ceremonies will be held in-person at the O’rena on Thursday, April 28 through Saturday, April 30. 

Winter 2021 commencement ceremonies took place in-person as well — the first time back to the O’rena during COVID-19 following the drive-in ceremonies of the year prior. The ceremony plans have been dependent on case numbers. 

“At the beginning of the term, we had not established yet what we were going to do,” Assistant to the Provost Stephanie Lee said. “We were looking at what was happening with the COVID numbers and also what would be best for the university, so immediately, once we saw that the numbers were going down and we were assessing what is going on in the state and in the country, we made the decision to make sure we have it in the O’rena.” 

About 1,900 students will be participating in the spring commencement, and the ceremonies will also recognize three honorary degree recipients. 

Each student is allowed three guest tickets, but could request more in their application to commencement. Applications closed on Feb. 25, and students will be notified if they are to receive additional tickets, which will be distributed equally. 

For guests who may not be able to attend or for those who do not feel comfortable in the O’rena, there will be other options. The ceremonies will be livestreamed and a link will be listed on the commencement website, as well as shared with participating students. The livestreams will also be projected in the Habitat in the Oakland Center where guests will be able to spread out more than in the O’rena. 

Currently, an indoor mask mandate is in place at OU, but there is an ongoing discussion of potentially lifting the mandate by March 18. Commencement protocol will follow that of the university. 

“Right now, we’re definitely going with what is currently the COVID protocols for our campus,” Lee said. “If the mandate is changed about the masks and the daily health screening, we will assess and evaluate at that time and we will notify the students of the change. The safety of our guests is important.” 

Many graduates are looking forward to in-person commencement, but there is some concern about COVID-19. 

“I’m actually glad the commencement will be in-person instead of an alternative option,” Brianna Sharpley said. “During my entire college career, I have been picturing the moment I walk across stage and receive my degree, so I’m pretty excited for that to finally happen. The only issue that may arise is potentially being around someone who could have COVID, but I’m hopeful that the limit of tickets being given out will work in our favor to prevent that.”

Sharpley feels safe attending the event as long as mask mandates are in place, but may feel hesitant around a large crowd if the mandate is lifted. 

If it is lifted, I at least hope there are sanitizing stations and masks being handed out to people who still choose to voluntarily wear theirs,” Sharpley said.

Dalia Iskander agrees. While she’s also excited for in-person commencement, she is nervous about having it in an indoor space and hopes extra precautions are taken. 

“If the mask mandate is lifted I wouldn’t feel very comfortable attending the in-person commencement,” Iskander said. “Unless the university had another way of ensuring our safety — for example, only allowing vaccinated students and guests to attend, and being very strict when it comes to distancing the guests.” 

OU administration will continue to monitor cases, follow recommendations from the CDC and listen to concerns from Graham Health Center leadership, faculty and students before the decision is made, and commencement will follow suit. Despite the challenges and uncertainties, Lee and her team are dedicated to making commencement ceremonies an experience to remember for graduates. 

“We wanted to make sure that we keep our traditions,” Lee said. “We would like to make sure that our bagpipes are there and also we would like to make sure that our students’ names are read and their photos are displayed with their degrees and honors on them. Those are some of our traditions and they are important to us, so we want to make sure we keep the traditions live and running.”