Caroline McCarthy and Jilleen Barrett, Sports Editor and Features Editor
Spring 2022 Manhattan College graduates will not walk the stage in New York, but rather in New Jersey this year — likely in the Meadowlands Exposition Center.
Due to rising concerns of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 and fears from the administration of New York City restrictions, Manhattan College has opted not to have the ceremony at its former home, Draddy Gymnasium, and instead, hold it in New Jersey to try and avoid vaccine regulations.
Steven Schreiner, Provost of the college, explained how this decision was made.
“This really began last year, right after commencement was done,” Schreiner said. “This wasn’t a sudden thing for us.”
According to Schreiner, the administration was focused on giving commencement as much flexibility as possible, something that has proven to be easier outside of New York City because of COVID rules and regulations.
“Last year we were getting put into this box of, this is all we can do,” Schreiner said in regard to COVID regulations for New York City gatherings. “And people wanted us to do much more.”
The 2021 graduation included several ceremonies as COVID regulations forced the school to split the graduates up into smaller groups to receive their diplomas. These ceremonies were held in the Kelly Student Commons without guests, so there was a virtual broadcast for friends and family. Manhattan College is looking to avoid similar circumstances for the graduates of 2022.
“We are still in the planning stages of this,” Schreiner said. “But we’ll see if we find a venue that gives us that flexibility to stage it to give us the best chance of not having a small room with just students you know, six feet apart, then that’s where we’re going to start.”
That venue has potentially been found at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, New Jersey — a 30-minute-drive from campus without traffic. Other venues in New York were explored but still confined the college to New York laws regarding COVID-19. The most pressing regulation remained unvaccinated community members being allowed within a New York building.
“We won’t have to turn away a grandparent or a parent or brother or sister or a student who’s unvaccinated,” Schreiner said in regard to having graduation in New Jersey. “I think that’s fine for our community. I really do — and we can do it safely.”
Margaret Groarke, Ph.D. is the chair of faculty affairs and a professor of political science at Manhattan. She spoke to The Quadrangle about why a location such as the Meadowlands might be more convenient for people despite its location being further than many prefer.
“There’s massive parking at the Meadowlands, it’s a climate controlled location. The seating will be more comfortable than folding chairs people sit in, in reality,” Groarke said. Manhattan students shared concerns not only about graduating in a different state than their campus, but also for the safety of their loved ones who planned on attending the ceremony.
“It feels like the school is catering to the unvaccinated people,” Helena Lippolis, vice president of commuter affairs for student government said. “[Provost Shreiner] told me word for word, ‘We need to protect the minority’.”
Student government decided to open a poll to graduating seniors, expecting most to vote in favor of having graduation on Manhattan College’s campus. However, of the 210 graduating seniors who participated, only 56 percent voted for graduation in Draddy Gymnasium, and 44 percent voted for graduation at the Meadowlands.
“It kind of showed us that there isn’t really a general consensus there about how students feel,” said student body president, Kevin Rojas. “A lot of students are worried about the vaccine mandates as well as the other side that are worried that the school might be dodging protocols.”
According to Rojas, the poll featured two options for seniors to choose — graduation held in Draddy Gymnasium at the expense of deferring unvaccinated guests or at the Meadowlands Exposition Center with less strict rules.
“I felt like the options weren’t well thought out,” Lippolis said. “Obviously you’re going to vote for your family to come to graduation.”
The survey, posted on student government’s Instagram page @mcstudentgov, received social media backlash from disgruntled students who were unhappy with the decision to move the ceremony off campus.
“[In] the comments section, people are thinking or giving suggestions to other locations that are just not viable,” Rojas said.
These options, such as holding graduation ceremonies in Van Cortlandt Park or Gaelic Park, have their own set of obstacles.
“Gaelic is strictly because of the fire codes, and also we don’t own Gaelic,” Rojas said. “We can’t really build more exits.”
Additional concerns for an outdoor ceremony include the possibility of a rain delay and the exponential cost of having to accommodate for untimely weather shifts.
“There’s huge challenges with being outdoors,” Schreiner said. “The weather is an issue. But [students] tend to say ‘Well, we could get through that.’ Well actually, I’ve planned many graduations in my career now and you can’t get around that if you have an afternoon of thunderstorms.”
Rojas explained that some of these suggestions are inspired by the class of 2022 feeling like the move will cause a rift in their connection to the campus since they will not be graduating there.
“A lot of the questions or concerns had to do with losing tradition,” he said. “That’s one of the biggest things that came out of it, was students were concerned that, you know, the school’s already gone through so many changes in the last two years with COVID that this might be something else that they lose, and students care a lot about it and they want to be on campus and they have a connection to the campus.”
Sarah Poons, an alumni from the class of 2019, was a member of the last graduating class to have what would be considered a normal graduation ceremony in Draddy Gymnasium before the pandemic began. She wrote in an email to the Quadrangle that having graduation outside of the general Manhattan College area “wouldn’t change the actual integrity of the ceremony, but I think it would change the overall atmosphere of it.”
“I think graduating on or near campus is important,” Poons wrote. “Graduation signifies the end of your time as a Manhattan College student, and I think it was great that we got to receive our degrees right where we made so many memories and met so many amazing people over the years. I also think it was nice to be able to take pictures with my friends afterwards on campus and that we will always have that to look back on.”
Poons description of the graduation she experienced is the exact type of ceremony seniors Maya Tirone-Goehring and Lea Creaven were hoping to have for their class.
“I would much prefer it if graduation was on campus or at least much closer to campus,” Creaven wrote to the Quadrangle. “Graduation is such an important and special event that having it on campus would make it that much more special. If graduation happens in the Meadowlands, I feel that it will really affect the significance of it and make the moment less meaningful for the students.”
According to Schreiner, transportation will be provided for students and family members. Tirone-Goehring, who expressed a particular concern for immunocompromised people like her father, is worried about having vaccinated and unvaccinated people in crowded spaces.
“You would then have unvaccinated and vaccinated families on the same bus,” Tirone-Goehring said. “I just think it’s causing safety issues.”
Groarke spoke about these issues as well, stating that it will be the college’s responsibility to make sure none of the ceremony’s attendees will be put in an unsafe situation regarding COVID. Schreiner said the exact regulations have not been put in place yet, but the college does plan to have rules that mimic what is done on campus.
“I think by moving to the Meadowlands, it’s up to the college to set sensible rules to make this a safe event for everyone who comes, and so I think the faculty will be looking at great interest to what rules the college is going to establish, to make graduation at the Meadowlands a safe event for everybody.”