University of Maine System campuses are planning on holding virtual graduation ceremonies this spring as uncertainty around the coronavirus pandemic continues and the safety of large gatherings remains in question.

University of Maine and University of Maine at Machias President Joan Ferrini-Mundy announced the plans for those campuses to hold virtual ceremonies in a message to students Wednesday.

“In September, we noted our intention to honor both our 2020 and 2021 graduates with in-person commencement ceremonies this spring if health and safety guidance allows,” Ferrini-Mundy wrote. “But since then, as the pandemic has unfolded and continues here in Maine and beyond, it has become clear that we will not be able to safely gather for these celebrations in the way we had hoped. And I share your disappointment.”

Both universities are gathering feedback from students following the announcement, which has been met with some pushback. As of Friday more than 1,300 people had signed an online petition demanding the University of Maine hold an in-person ceremony.

“For myself and many others, graduation is a celebration of our achievements,” said Brody Osborne, a senior who started the petition. “It’s something we’ve all worked hard for for years. It’s really something people look forward to when entering college. It’s that last hurrah and walking across a video camera in your own living room doesn’t seem to have that same appeal.”

Osborne said he and other students were disappointed with the announcement Wednesday and have been brainstorming ways the university could offer safe in-person celebrations, including by hosting ceremonies specific to individual colleges or limiting the in-person audience in attendance. “If we follow all the protocols we’ve been following on campus for the entire pandemic – we’re being tested weekly or biweekly and wearing masks – there’s certainly no doubt students should be able to walk 6 feet apart to receive that diploma and have that streamed to our families,” Osborne said.

Last week, University of Southern Maine President Glenn Cummings also notified faculty, students and staff of plans for a virtual ceremony. Graduation day across the system is May 8.

“This approach, while deeply disappointing for all of us, is necessary given the realities of the pandemic,” Cummings wrote. “Even if the most optimistic projections for vaccine delivery are realized over the next three months, we will not be able to gather safely in the numbers that our traditional, in-person celebration would require.

“As we have more than 1,000 graduates in the Class of 2021, holding an in-person event in these circumstances would be inherently unfair, as it would require us to exclude some of the graduates and their families, who would very much want to and have every right to attend.”

Virtual ceremonies also are being planned at the University of Maine at Augusta, University of Maine at Farmington, University of Maine at Presque Isle and the University of Maine School of Law.


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