Framingham State University will hold an optional in-person Ram Graduation Walk in the Dwight Hall Performing Arts Center (DPAC) June 2-5 to celebrate the Classes of 2020 and 2021.
The walk from the Athletics Center to DPAC will provide a face-to-face celebration for graduates and up to four guests in addition to the virtual commencement ceremonies scheduled for May 23.
According to Meg Nowak Borrego, dean of students and Commencement Committee member, the University wanted to “offer the opportunity for in-person recognition for students who are seeking this experience while maintaining COVID commencement protocols.”
These protocols include capacity limits involving no more than six guests per graduate, social distancing guidelines such as staying 6 feet apart and requiring the use of masks, hygiene protocols such as sanitizing and hand washing, and increased cleaning and disinfecting.
Nowak Borrego said students contacted the University and indicated they were looking to participate in an in-person event to commemorate their achievements.
She said, “We understand this approach is not our traditional ceremony at the DCU Center but hope that between the virtual College Award Ceremonies, virtual Senior Toast on May 21, and the Virtual Commencement Ceremonies on May 23, as well as the in-person on-campus graduate walk in June, that our students will feel recognized and celebrated for their time spent earning their degree at Framingham State University.”
According to FSU President F. Javier Cevallos, the walk will be a moment for families and friends to cheer on their graduates as they have their names called, walk across the stage, and move their tassel.
The idea of holding a walk came from looking at fellow public state universities, according to Katie Hebert, executive assistant to Cevallos and Commencement Committee chair.
Hebert said, “[The Commencement Committee] felt a grad walk offered students what they wanted most in an in-person experience while keeping within the strict guidelines the state set for us.
“Worcester State and Salem State are doing outdoor, drive-through versions, but Fitchburg offered an indoor element which we liked, so we modeled ours very closely to theirs,” said Hebert.
She said the Commencement Committee explored all possible locations, including athletic fields and parking lots, but quickly realized they had a “beautiful space” already available “offering a more formal photo opportunity than any stage we could erect outdoors.”
Hebert added, “If we had students and guests sitting outdoors, we likely would have had to limit it to two guests a student, and we would have been at the mercy of elements.”
Nowak Borrego said unpredictable weather, current COVID-19 restrictions, and available facilities all played a role in selecting DPAC for the walk. Additionally, DPAC will allow the University to host the walk for multiple days and time slots.
Cevallos said, “We do have a wonderful facility in DPAC which is a really nice place and allows for families to come in in small groups.”
The Committee did not want to host a drive-through celebration because “containing families to their vehicles was also not ideal because it doesn’t allow the best visibility for viewing” and the Committee felt the experience would have been “more impersonal,” said Hebert.
According to Hebert, the Committee was only given guidance from the state three weeks ago, and their planning has evolved daily since.
“We quickly explored many outdoor options, the pros and cons of each, and eventually landed on the indoor grad walk as the best experience for our students,” said Hebert. “Our Committee has been meeting both virtually and in person to carefully map out a safe, socially distanced route that our guests should feel comfortable with.”
Hebert said the Commencement Committee wanted to fill the void left from a virtual ceremony while also providing flexibility.
She added the Committee purposely did not schedule the walk by college, degree, or major.
“We felt it was important to allow students and families to choose the date and time that works best for them,” said Hebert. “This format also allows friend groups to coordinate so they can attend during similar times if they choose, and have the opportunity to possibly watch their friends walk and cheer them on.”
In addition to having a professional photographer in DPAC, there will also be designated photo locations across campus. Some locations will include the route to DPAC, in front of the ram statue, and the Framingham State University sign between Miles Bibb Hall and Corinne Hall Towers.
Hebert said, “There will be a listing available to students and their guests of all suggested photo locations, but our campus will be fully open, and they are encouraged to also take photos in locations that are most meaningful to them, such as their residence hall or the academic building they spent most of their class time in.”
She added a professional photographer will only be available during the Ram Graduation Walk in DPAC, and each student will be given a free 5-by-7-inch print for the image captured with the option to purchase additional prints.
All other locations will require students and their guests to take their own photos.
Senior English major Olivia Banks said she thinks the Ram Graduation Walk is a good alternative to hosting an in-person commencement ceremony.
“In my experience, a lot of students go to graduation mostly just to take pictures – or at least pictures are the highlight. So, I think FSU did a good job finding some common ground,” she said. “It’s also cool that they’re letting you have four guests in case you want pictures with them, too.”
Jack Pierson, a senior business management major, said he thinks the Ram Graduation Walk is a “great idea.
“The only problem is our families probably needed to be notified about this a couple months before this decision in order to plan,” Pierson said. “Regardless, I appreciate the University taking the time to provide seniors with a good send-off.”
Senior Biology major Sarah Parker said she was imagining a more traditional setup.
She said, “It’s good as it will give graduates their moment to be on stage. I just expected more from it. If high-schoolers can accomplish semi-normal outdoor graduations with ceremonies, I don’t see why we can’t.”
Alexis Kays, a senior elementary education major and SGA secretary, said, “I like this idea because I know a lot of students would really appreciate being able to walk for graduation.
“However, I think it could be questionable in terms of COVID safety, and it is not at a very convenient time,” she added. “I know I will not be able to attend because I am moving out of state, and other students may be starting jobs and such that week as well.”
SGA Senator Danielle Shaw, a senior finance major with a minor in economics, said she thinks the Ram Graduation Walk is a great idea.
“I was very disappointed when I heard we would be graduating online, but also understand the circumstances and do not want to get myself or others sick,” she said. “I appreciate that more thought was put into having some sort of in-person graduation since we have all worked so hard the last four years.”
Cevallos said he hopes many will be able to participate in the walk, although he understands members of the Class of 2020 may be unable to attend because they don’t reside nearby or due to their work circumstances.
He said, “I am truly appreciative of the resilience students have shown to continue to study and embrace the new way of learning.
“I think both classes [2020 and 2021] are going to be extremely successful in their professional careers because that resilience shows that you can do anything you want,” he added.
Hebert said, “A huge congratulations to all our graduates on their well-deserved success and for persevering through such difficult and uncertain times.
“Although it may not be a day like any of us expected, as a fellow FSU alum and current staff member, I look forward to sharing in the excitement of your graduation!”
Nowak Borrego said, “I am so proud of all you have accomplished during your experience at Framingham State University, particularly with all the changes and challenges that COVID-19 has presented to all of us.”
She added, “As you reflect upon your experiences during your time at FSU, think about the good things that have happened and all you have learned and focus on those when you apply and interview for jobs or graduate school.
“You have overcome several things people could not have predicted or may never have to experience again, so take the time to celebrate all you have accomplished.”
Graduates and guests participating in the Ram Graduation Walk must register in advance. Time slots include June 2 from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m., June 3 from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. and June 5 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Additional days are on reserve and will become available to graduates if needed.
To register, and for more information and safety guidelines, visit: https://www.framingham.edu/academics/commencement/ram-graduation-walk