College Plans for In-Person Inauguration and Commencement

On May 7 and 8, the steps of Kresge Gymnasium will host inauguration and commencement ceremonies. This is especially meaningful for the class of 2021, who will be invited back here to walk at the commencement ceremony they didn’t get to have last year (Photo by Elena Mourad).

As the end of the semester approaches, so do the ceremonies and events scheduled for May 7 and 8. The inauguration of Albion College President Mathew Johnson and the commencement of both the classes of 2020 and 2021 will be some of the biggest events the college has hosted since COVID-19 began. Consequently, many protocols will be in place to keep these events safe for everyone attending. 

Hannah Mattson, the director of experiential storytelling at Albion, is in charge of organizing the weekend’s events. The planning process started months ago and has yielded a full schedule of events to attend.

“We are packed from the ground-breaking of the Albion Community Collaborative down at the bank downtown on Thursday morning, through the second commencement at 5 p.m. on Saturday,” said Mattson.

The Albion College website goes into detail about some of the ribbon-cutting and groundbreaking ceremonies taking place.

“Highlights will include the ribbon-cutting and dedication of the new Sarah S. and Alexander M. Cutler Center for Student Success and Academic Achievement, whose physical space in Stockwell Library was completed earlier this semester; an announcement regarding the re-imagining of the Washington Gardner school building into the new Body and Soul Center; and a ribbon-cutting for the Joe and Julie Serra Wellness Center at the Dow Recreation Center.”

There will be a ribbon-cutting and dedication of the Sarah S. and Alexander M. Cutler Center located in the library and an announcement of the college’s plan to renovate and rebrand Washington Gradner into the Body and Soul Center. There will also be a ribbing cutting for the Joe and Julie Serra Wellness Center at the Dow that opened at the beginning of the fall 2020 semester.

Part of Mattson’s job is to plan events that tell a story, so all of these things are being brought together with a certain narrative in mind that speaks to the college’s goals for the future.

“One of the challenges I faced when I first started was ‘What is going to connect all of these events together?’ Working with other people, we decided on the theme of creating with courage because of the spaces that we are working on, or cutting ribbons on,” said Mattson. “It really is creating a new era of Albion.” 

This connective theme for the events is not lacking in inspiration.

“We’re really thinking of The Rock as our inspiration or theme because it’s our space where we create with courage on campus,” said Mattson.

Each event has been carefully planned to work with COVID-19 restrictions in terms of gathering limits in certain spaces. As many events as possible will be conducted outside. For the few that may be, the college will be sure to limit the number of people gathering.

“For some things, it just does make more sense to be inside, and luckily, Washington Gardner has an auditorium that seats 600 people normally, so we could have 100 people in there,” said Mattson. “We’re definitely operating on low capacity limits and looking for big indoor spaces”

To keep the number of people under the limit in any given space, only some people will be invited in person for different events. At the commencements for the classes of 2020 and 2021, each graduate will be allowed to invite two guests. However, Johnson’s inauguration has a more specific invite list.

“We have a guest list for inauguration of who Dr. Johnson wants to invite – his colleagues from other places – we have a guest list of alumni who are invited to inauguration, and we should have extra seats for students,” said Mattson.

Seating for these events will be set up in socially distanced pods, some in groups of two or four, depending on the people sitting in them. Students will be able to sit with their roommates while guests will be able to sit with the person they came with.

“We haven’t finalized the seating plan for students, but definitely four or less people sitting together in a pod based on who they live with,” said Mattson. “Pods for guests will be in twos, because many people will be coming with someone.”

In addition to these regulations, everyone who attends these events will be tested for COVID-19 before they’re allowed on campus. Students, faculty and staff will be tested during the days leading up to the weekend and visitors will receive rapid tests as they arrive.

For anyone who is not able to be on campus, most of the weekend’s events will also be live-streamed or recorded.

“We want to provide livestream options for several events because we know that there are still some people who don’t feel safe going to a gathering this large,” said Mattson. “We’re just trying to do our best to make sure there’s an option for people to participate in a way that makes them feel safe and connected, even if it’s not in person.”

A lot of work has gone into making these events work with safety regulations, and now graduates from 2020 and 2021 are lucky enough to be able to walk at commencement to finish out their college experience. 

“We hope that as many people as want to will return to campus and that it feels more special than Youtube Live was last year, even though that was our best effort last year,” said Mattson. “There’s something about being in this place and having the closure of walking across a stage that you can’t really get any other way.”

About Elena Mourad 6 Articles
Elena Mourad is a sophomore from Woodbridge, Virginia. She is a Theatre major and a Communication Studies minor. Her favorite pastime is singing and/or playing the piano. She is also an avid lover of fantasy books.

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