Hillsdale College to hold in-person graduation ceremony despite objections from officials

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A conservative-leaning private college in Michigan plans to host an in-person graduation ceremony with as many as 2,600 expected guests, a likely violation of the governor’s order requiring social distancing.

Hillsdale College officials notified county health officials of their plants to go ahead with the college’s graduation ceremony this weekend, which comes as the county is experiencing rising numbers of new coronavirus cases, Crain’s Detroit Business reported.

County officials decried the decision in internal emails and in official statements, but said that there was little the state could do to prevent the gathering.

“The individuals that do come to visit the community will not just be at the commencement ceremony,” Rebecca Burns, a Hillsdale County health officer, told Crain’s. “They will be staying in hotels and eating in restaurants. So the larger community is put at potential increased risk because of the large number of individuals coming from outside of town.”

“I think we’re a little too late for any kind of enforcement, frankly,” Burns added.

A spokesperson for the state attorney general’s office seemed to indicate that enforcement would fall to the discretion of local law enforcement.

“Should this event proceed, we trust the local law enforcement agencies to exercise their authority and discretion in their enforcement efforts,” spokesman Ryan Jarvi told Crain’s. “We sympathize with those who want to celebrate the success of college graduates, but the unfortunate circumstances surrounding this pandemic have made that difficult for many, and we encourage alternatives to large assemblies that could further jeopardize the health of many people.”

The announcement reportedly comes despite no indication of any upcoming graduation ceremony on Hillsdale College’s website, including on the school’s events page.

Hillsdale Police Chief Scott Hephner indicated to Crain’s that he thought Hillsdale College officials had consulted with state officials and would not be in violation of the order.

“I have been told that they have done research, gotten input from epidemiologists, and I believe, have reached out to the state for planning purposes, and their intent is to do it so they’re not in any technical violation,” he said.

Hillsdale says it is preparing a number of measures to conduct the ceremony safely that it says either meet or exceed those recommended by the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control.

People have been told not to attend if they have symptoms or COVID-19 or if they have been in contact with people who have COVID-19. 

Those attending will also be screened for symptoms and have their temperatures taken. Masks will be provided to those who don’t have them, and people will be seated at a distance of six feet from one another.

Contactless ticketing will be used, and the campus will have hand sanitizer stations. 

The event is supposed to be held outdoors, though Hillsdale said it could be moved inside. In that event, it said social distancing would be maintained.

Hillsdale also said it was using needlepoint bipolar ionization technology to clean the air within buildings, and that Clorox sprayers would be used to sanitize seating and surfaces. 


This story was updated at 1:19 p.m.

Tags College graduation Coronavirus COVID-19 Michigan

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