On April 8th, Tuskegee University released the news that the 2021 Spring Commencement Exercises will now be held in-person on May 30th at Cramton Bowl Stadium in Montgomery, Alabama. The ceremony will celebrate the students who earned degrees in the Fall 2019, Spring, Summer, and Fall 2020, and Spring 2021. The ROTC Commissioning, the Nursing Capping and Pinning Ceremony, and the School of Education’s Induction Ceremony will also have in-person ceremonies. This news excited many students, as they were the ones who helped make this happen.
A year into the COVID-19 Pandemic, all university events were forced to transition to virtual platforms to abide by CDC guidelines. This caused the Class of 2021 to miss out on the many important student experiences in their final year such as Homecoming and Spring Break. As surrounding universities began offering in-person commencement ceremonies for Spring 2021, many students of the senior class began wondering if Tuskegee’s commencement would be in-person as well. As COVID cases remain low in Macon County, students noticed that an in-person graduation was actually a feasible option. Four students of the senior class took the extra mile to help push the classes efforts. Kelim Clark (Senior, Chemical Engineering), Taylor Dickerson (Senior, Mechanical Engineering), and Ja’La Brown (Senior, Chemical Engineering), created a five option proposal for the administration to consider an in-person ceremony. The arrangements to set up this proposal were made by Chandler Thomas. The proposal options were based on time, location, and Covid guidelines taking into consideration the number of graduates and guests. There were four proposed locations including Daniel “Chappie” James Center, Abbott Memorial Alumni Stadium, Montgomery Biscuit Stadium, and Cramton Bowl Stadium. The three seniors counted all the seating in Chappie and the football field. They also measured the space to determine the amount of attendees that could be accommodated with social distancing rules in place. The proposal was then presented to administration and the commencement planning committee on April 5th. The decision made by the administration was then released to the public three days later. Along with the proposal, many students of the senior class sent countless emails to the administration to strongly express their desire to walk the stage.
In addition to the student body’s efforts, the Student Government Association (SGA) worked hard on behalf of the senior class for an in-person commencement to happen. The Pulse Administration met regularly during their scheduled meetings to compose a proposal to advocate on behalf of the student body for an in-person graduation. SGA President, Cedric Davis, represented The Pulse Administration and the student body in Board of Trustee Meetings and President Cabinet meetings to present the proposals. According to Mr. Davis, “The mission of obtaining an in-person graduation was very special to me as well as The Pulse. Despite not many members of The Pulse graduating this year, we all took this mission as if we were going to advocate for our own personal graduations. We knew how important this was and how much the student body wanted an in-person graduation. We also knew it was possible to have one. In result, our efforts as well as the student body’s effort got us to where we are today.” Cedric Davis not only recognizes the efforts of The Pulse Administration but also credits the efforts of the student body. He further shares, “I really want to say that without the efforts of the student body and the Pulse Administration, I truly believe we would not have achieved the goal we all wanted to see. Tuskegee accepting an in-person graduation in times like these is a true testament to how much we can accomplish when SGA and the student body work in a cohesive effort. It is also a testament to Tuskegee University being open to change and willing to adapt.” Without the many students who fought to help make graduation in-person, the University would have followed the original plans of a virtual commencement. Many students were amazed by what they were able to accomplish by working together as a student body.
In the University’s public statement, adoption of in-person graduation is credited to students. It explains, “The University’s leadership reconsidered its decision to hold a virtual commencement after our graduating students expressed the strong desire to physically march across a stage to receive their degrees. Holding the ceremony at the Cramton Bowl not only fulfills students’ wishes, but also allows the University to adhere to current guidelines from the CDC as well as state and local public health officials to minimize the spread of COVID-19.” The guidelines in place to ensure a safe ceremony are having a maximum of four guests per graduate, participants submitting a negative PCR COVID-19 test or presenting a copy of their COVID-19 vaccination card, wearing masks during the entire event, and temperature screening at the gate.
Students were overjoyed by the University’s decision knowing that their efforts were not done in vain and that they could finally enjoy a huge part of their senior year experience.