University alters commencement plans

Graduates now allowed two guests each for grad walks


Courtesy of Roger Williams University

The schedule for the Class of 2021 Grad Walk on May 22. Time slots are separated by school.

Isabella Gentile, Editor-in-Chief

Two guests per graduate will now be allowed to attend the grad walks for the Classes of 2020, 2021 and the RWU School of Law, which are happening between May 21-23. University President Ioannis Miaoulis announced the news on April 14, changing the previously announced decision that no guests were permitted.

“Having the governor last week widen the state restrictions in the next phase of planning, all of the stars started to align,” Chief of Staff Brian Williams told The Hawks’ Herald.

University officials were told that beginning May 1, larger outdoor events would increase to 10% capacity with up to 1,000 people with Department of Business Regulation approval. On the Reopening Rhode Island website, it is noted that events occurring between May 1-15 can apply to have up to 500 people indoors or 1,000 people outdoors with approval. The site shows the next capacity increase for venues of assembly beginning on May 15, reaching 50% capacity and up to 500 people indoors or 1,000 people outdoors. The Hawks’ Herald reached out to the Department of Business Regulation to confirm the May 1 capacity change.

Assistant Director of University Commencement and Special Events Melanie Stone said they did not originally want to move forward with having guests if the state was going to impose further restrictions that would prevent that from happening. The increase in occupancy levels administrators heard about last week gave them an optimistic outlook on the month ahead and they submitted a final plan on Friday, April 9 that included guests. This plan was approved on Monday.

“It was more of a safety net for us to know they’re increasing this rather than going the other way where they’re restricting it,” Stone said. “To feel like ok we can make this work, now we can add two guests because they’re not going to shut us down completely.”


For the Class of 2020 and 2021 walks, each school will have its own time frame within the 8 a.m.-2 p.m. schedule. Students will be able to sign up for 15 minute time slots based on their school. Stone said each 15 minute set will consist of around 30 students, a limit that will control how many students are on campus at one time.

Using the Field House and Upper Gym as staging areas, participating graduates will go into a line-up process with their two guests and staff will move that line forward for the grad walks. Guests for each graduate will be directed to a marker on the floor where they can watch the graduate cross the stage, receive their diploma cover and have their official photo taken.

There will be no sitting during the event, adding to the practicability of the event design as there will be a constant circulation of people. Between arriving, assigned walking times and leaving the building, students and their guests are expected to be on campus for around 30 minutes. This flow will allow guests to be present because there will not be a large number of people seated on campus at one time to exceed the indoor capacity limit.

On campus, everyone must wear a mask at all times and guests will have to show proof of a negative COVID test within the 72 hours prior to arrival in order to be allowed in. Williams said ensuring guests come with a negative test in hand is key and added that this will be a challenge.

“To have a parent come to be here and then be told that they can’t come into the building because they didn’t bring a negative test is the on the ground, immediate thing we would be worried about,” Williams said.

The walks will still be livestreamed so family and friends in other locations can watch and celebrate remotely. The keynote speaker, student National Anthem singer and student commencement speaker will be highlighted in a pre-recorded virtual ceremony that will be uploaded to the commencement website the day of the event.



Williams said RWU was one of the last universities to submit plans to the state because officials were waiting to see any ease in restrictions. Williams said they did not wait to make an announcement until after plans were approved because setting a minimum expectation that this scenario might not happen was important to do.

“At the time that we announced that [initial plan] and let people start knowing about commencement, we wouldn’t have been able to do the design we’ve done,” Williams said. “But hearing the feedback, seeing a student petition, Yannis listening at Student Senate and other places, it was like ‘let’s not submit that plan because there’s pushback and let’s wait until the last minute possible to submit our plan.’”

Senior Zach DeNuccio is happy about the change to allow guests and added most of his friends are glad this is now a possibility too.

“I’m definitely happy now that [my] parents can come and see me graduate in person, as were they to hear the news,” DeNuccio said. “Obviously it would be ideal to have other family members there too but I understand that given the circumstances this is the best we can get.”

Dealing with constant changes, Stone said the experience has been a roller coaster for administrators too and added they empathize a lot with the students, who the situation has been really emotional for.

“It’s still not a perfect situation, it’s not an ideal situation but we think it will help add to the day to mark this occasion for each student,” Stone said. “We’re doing what we can with the limitations that are given. We’re trying to make it as special as possible.”