Gov. Northam to allow more people to attend graduations in Virginia

Gov. Northam to allow more people to attend graduations in Virginia
Gov. Northam holding a news briefing in Richmond. (Source: VPM)

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Governor Ralph Northam says crowd sizes will be increased for graduations in Virginia.

The governor announced back on March 1 that some coronavirus restrictions will be lifted across the state, now he’s offering some updates.

To say Essence Baylor is excited might be an understatement. The Monacan High School cheerleader is preparing to graduate.

“12 years you waited for this and you want to see something happen - that feels good at the end of the day,” she said.

Baylor attended a close friend’s graduation in Chesterfield last year, at the height of the pandemic.

“He walked across the stage. He had to pick up his diploma off of a table. You couldn’t shake anyone’s hand, a congratulations or a hug or anything, and then you took a picture and you walked out of the school. It was like five minutes tops,” she recalled.

In Henrico, schools there also had to get creative.

“What we did last year was a victory lap around the track at Richmond Raceway…Graduates and families stayed in their car and drove around the track…while the teachers of the school lined the track and waved flags,” Henrico spokesperson Andy Jenks said.

There is a chance that things could look somewhat like normal this time around. Wednesday, Governor Northam said schools can hold in-door ceremonies as long as there or no more than 500 people or 30% capacity, whichever is less. Ceremonies can be held outdoors with up to 5,000 people or 30% capacity, whichever is less.

“This year we’re looking to do something different, something that more closely resembles the traditional graduation ceremony where we can come together in a safe manner,” Jenks added.

“I hope that I can at least have six tickets for my mom and my dad and my grandparents on both sides to come and just see how hard I worked for my 12 years, just for this moment under these circumstances,” Baylor said

Those who attend graduation must wear face masks and social distancing must be in place. Preliminary graduation guidelines can be found, here.

“I appreciate the work that our schools, students, and teachers have put in to get back into the classroom safely, and the efforts of public health officials and education leaders in developing guidelines for safe graduations and commencements this spring,” said Northam. “We are releasing this guidance early to allow schools to begin planning for this year’s events. While graduation and commencement ceremonies will still be different than they were in the past, this is a tremendous step forward for all of our schools, our graduates, and their families.”

Petersburg says it will look at doing indoor graduation. Henrico says theirs will likely be outdoors. Richmond is planning to keep it virtual with an option for grads to pick up their diplomas.

Spokespersons for Chesterfield and Hanover schools said they were awaiting the guidance before they moved forward with making graduation plans.

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