🎓 High school commencements in 2020 were virtual or held in small groups

🎓 Pro-Palestine protests have threatened college commencement this year

🎓 Princeton and Rutgers protests have been low-key

Events of the world robbed the Class of 2020 of their high school commencement ceremony and it could happen again four years later as they are about to leave college.

Most proms, class trips and other events were scrapped because of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions issued by Gov. Phil Murphy. The last tradition to fall was commencement when his administration initially issued guidance that schools should only plan for virtual graduations.

Some schools decided to postpone, gambling on a loosening of restrictions. Updated guidance allowed schools to host multiple ceremonies  on football fields and at large places like the Trenton Thunder stadium.  The number of tickets per graduate was limited.

The state guidelines recommended programs not be handed out and diplomas not be given out during the ceremony. It was recommended graduates not be allowed to throw their caps in the air or accept gifts or flowers. And of course, social distancing was in full effect.

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Carteret High School's Class of 2020 graduation
Carteret High School's Class of 2020 graduation (Carteret public schools)

2020 worst case scenario

Former Mount Olive Superintendent Robert Zywicki, who Murphy appointed to a panel to craft guidelines for schools, remembers getting 100 emails and phone messages about the prom and graduation daily.

"Towards the end of May I declared to everyone that the worst case scenario is that we will do a virtual graduation. However, our aspiration is to have an in-person within all of the limits of whatever it's going to be at that time," Zywicki said.

The class wound up having three ceremonies, fireworks and a prom at the football field in July, according to Zywicki.

"There were people who were overjoyed and they were so happy they didn't have to have a virtual graduation. Some of the kids were bummed that they didn't get to graduate with their whole class, but I think everyone accepted that in-person graduation is better than none," Zywicki said.

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(Middletown Schools Superintendent William George Twitter account)
(Middletown Schools Superintendent William George Twitter account)

Only one college has canceled commencement so far

Fast forward to 2024 and those same students could be in for another altered or even no commencement. The culprit this time is pro-Palestine protests and security concerns that could lead colleges to cancel their respective ceremonies.

Demonstrations at Columbia University, Emory University, the University of Georgia, Emerson College and UCLA have grown violent, which has caused some graduates to worry about their ceremonies.

Only the University of Southern California has completely canceled its large ceremony for all 65,000 graduates due to heightened security measures.

"We understand that this is disappointing; however, we are adding many new activities and celebrations to make this commencement academically meaningful, memorable, and uniquely USC, including places to gather with family, friends, faculty, and staff, the celebratory releasing of the doves, and performances by the Trojan Marching Band," the school said online.

Small ceremonies for the school's individual colleges will still be held.

Protests at Rutgers University and Princeton University have remained low key so far and commencement remains on schedule. Rutgers commencement is scheduled for Sunday, May 12. Princeton will hold its ceremony on Tuesday, May 28.

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