Hillsdale College has held commencement for an unbroken streak of 167 years. Despite the perilous times of the U.S Civil War, World War I, the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, the Great Depression, and World War II, the college has never failed to celebrate the culmination of four years of hard work undertaken by its graduating class.
This Saturday, it will do so once more. At 8 p.m. on July 18, outdoors at Muddy Waters Stadium, Hillsdale College will host its 168th commencement ceremonies, the conclusion of the mutual efforts of the college’s staff, students, and educators.
“Commencement is the most significant event in the life of a college,” said Larry P. Arnn, president of Hillsdale College. “As old as the first universities, this milestone represents the conclusion of the College’s labor and also inaugurates an even greater undertaking: each graduate’s commencing to live a good and happy life in accordance with the highest principles, a life for which they have spent four years preparing.”
While originally planned for May 9, events had to be rescheduled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdowns. “Because our students’s safety is our first priority,” said Rich Péwé, the college’s chief administrative officer, “such a ceremony is only possible through discussion and partnership with our community — including health officials, epidemiologists, city officials, state government, and law enforcement officials.”
Indeed, after monitoring state and national trends and complying with the state of Michigan’s executive orders, Hillsdale College is taking all possible and prudent measures to host a safe commencement. Following careful consideration, Hillsdale judges that its commencement activities are appropriate given the low number of COVID-19 cases in Hillsdale County.
Over the past weeks and months, the college has consulted with both highly qualified epidemiologists as well as legal experts and is confident its protocols will meet or exceed requirements put forth by the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control.
As Hillsdale Hospital CEO J.J. Hodshire confirms, “Hillsdale College engaged us, as well as other experts, early in the commencement planning process.” Heeding the hospital’s guidance and in accordance with the orders of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, masks will be required and provided for those who need one.
Throughout campus, signs reminding guests of mask usage will be displayed prominently. All attending commencement will have their temperatures checked and be fully screened before granted admittance. Those running temperatures above 100.3F will be turned away.
The various events held on Hillsdale’s campus during the week’s festivities feature pre-set seating that will maintain six feet of distance between guests. Electronic, contactless ticketing and abundant hand sanitizer stations are some of the other medical safeguards Hillsdale is enacting to keep everyone as safe as possible. Additionally, medical tents will be set up to handle any health issues that arise and to manage any who don’t meet the screening criteria.
Not taking any chances, Hillsdale College has requested that guests or their family members who have any COVID-19 symptoms, have tested positive, or have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive within 14 days of arrival should not attend commencement or any related events. Those over the age of 70 or who have medical complications that compromise their immune system are also cautioned to stay home.
More than a month in advance, Hillsdale College notified Whitmer of the college’s intention to hold commencement and related campus activities beginning the week of July 12. In the process of making sure Hillsdale College’s commencement events were protected by both the U.S. and Michigan constitutions, the college sought the legal expertise of Neal Brady, a prosecuting attorney for the county.
Brady affirmed Whitmer’s order did not prohibit gatherings of more than the prescribed numerical limits when such gatherings involve constitutionally protected conduct. As an “expressive activity” protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, commencement is one such occasion.
“Ceremonies such as these are vitally important,” argues Adam Stockford, the mayor of Hillsdale. “I applaud Hillsdale College for the courage to make sure its graduates don’t miss this important day in their lives.”
While Hillsdale College’s 168th commencement is officially closed to the public, a livestream will broadcast the ceremony for all who wish to celebrate.
The author of this article will walk with Hillsdale’s graduate school class of 2020 this Saturday.