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NYS releases guidance for in-person graduation ceremonies

'Graduation ceremonies are important, and we hope schools have graduation ceremonies. We just want them safe and we want them smart,' Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

NEW YORK — New York Governor Andrew Cuomo shared some good news Monday for 2021 graduates. He released guidance for in-person graduation ceremonies during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"Graduation ceremonies are important, and we hope schools have graduation ceremonies. We just want them safe and we want them smart," Cuomo said during a conference call with reporters.

Effective May 1, indoor and outdoor graduation and commencement ceremonies will be allowed with limited attendee capacity, depending on the event size and the location.

Event organizers and venues hosting ceremonies would need to follow NYS health and safety protocols, including wearing face masks and social distancing.

For events that exceed the social gathering limits of 100 people indoors or 200 people outdoors, event organizers and venues would be required to notify the health department and mandate guests to show proof of a recent negative test result or proof of completed immunization prior to entry.

City of Niagara Falls School District Superintendent Mark Laurrie said he will be showing the guidance to student leaders to determine what they would like for the 400 students graduating this year. He said he would like to have an outdoor ceremony if possible.

"I like the option of possibly doing an outdoor venue, it gives it a little more freedom, a little more openness, a little more togetherness," he said.

Last year, like many districts, the City of Niagara Falls held a drive-up graduation ceremony for seniors, which is something Governor Cuomo said he still recommends.

"All that being said, we continue to encourage virtual drive-in or individual ceremonies; they are still the safest options for students and families," Cuomo said.

In March, UB President Satish K. Tripathi told 2 On Your Side 17 graduation ceremonies will be held at UB Stadium, and at another outdoor space at the university's north campus, from April 30 through May 16. The ceremonies will require mandatory mask-wearing, social distancing, and will also be in compliance with the university's weekly testing requirement for students, faculty and staff.

The university estimated that roughly 6,000 students will choose to participate in the spring commencement ceremonies, with over 9,000 undergraduate and graduate students expected to earn degrees this year.

Niagara University announced in March they would be holding three in-person graduation ceremonies, with small groups of students ushered into the Gallagher Center to graduate at a time.

Daemen College will conduct six smaller in-person ceremonies. All ceremonies will be held in Lumsden gym with chairs placed 6 feet apart.

Several other schools like Canisius, Medaille and Buffalo State College have decided to host virtual graduation ceremonies this year.

Outdoor Events: 

  • Large-scale ceremonies of over 500 people at outdoor venues will be limited to 20 percent of capacity, applicable to venues with a total capacity of 2,500 or more
  • Medium-scale ceremonies of 201-500 people at outdoor venues will be limited to 33 percent of capacity
  • Small-scale ceremonies of up to 200 people or two attendees per student at outdoor venues will be limited to 50 percent of capacity. Proof of recent negative test result or proof of completed immunization is optional

 Indoor Events: 

  • Large-scale ceremonies of over 150 people at indoor venues will be limited to 10 percent of capacity, applicable to venues with a total capacity of 1,500 or more
  • Medium-scale ceremonies of 101-150 people at indoor venues will be limited to 33 percent of capacity
  • Small-scale ceremonies of up to 100 people or 2 attendees per student at indoor venues will be limited to 50 percent of capacity 
  • Proof of recent negative test result or proof of completed immunization is optional