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NJ governor: Modified in-person graduation ceremonies can be held starting July 6

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced on Tuesday that high schools, colleges and universities in the state can hold modified in-person graduation ceremonies starting on July 6.

The New Jersey Department of Education and the Office of and the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education will issue detailed guidance to school districts, colleges, and universities on how to conduct the ceremonies. The guidance will include requirements that ceremonies be held outdoors, that attendees adhere to social distancing protocols, and that schools observe capacity restrictions in order to protect the health of students and families celebrating milestones during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I am proud to say that our graduates will have the opportunity to join their classmates and families to celebrate graduation,” Murphy said. “Despite the uncertainty of these times, our students deserve to have their hard work acknowledged and celebrate safely. We have reached a point where we feel confident moving forward and giving our graduates the send-off they have so rightly earned.” 

Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet said the plan balances the desire to recognize the accomplishments of graduating students with necessary safeguards for their safety, as well as the safety of their friends, families and school staff.

Secretary of Higher Education Zakiya Smith Ellis said the state owes it to students to celebrate their work to complete their degrees. “With this new guidance in place, we will be working with institutions to help ensure healthy, safe celebrations for students and families,” she said.

Detailed guidance will be issued to schools on Wednesday, and will include the following requirements for commencement ceremonies:

  • Ceremonies must take place on or after July 6, 2020;
  • Ceremonies ust take place outdoors or be drive-in/drive-through (no indoor ceremonies will be allowed);
  • Events must adhere to the relevant capacity limitation in place at the time of the ceremony (this may require districts to hold multiple ceremonies held over a period of time to ensure capacity restrictions are not exceeded);
  • Districts and institutions must determine the minimum number of staff and faculty necessary to facilitate commencement ceremonies and adjust attendance requirements accordingly;
  • Caps, gowns, diplomas, and other materials must be mailed to individual student homes, sent electronically where possible, or otherwise distributed in a manner that complies with social distancing guidelines;
  • All activities must be coordinated in consultation with municipal officials, such as the local Office of Emergency Management, local law enforcement, first responders, and local health officials.

Officials said commencements must be held only for graduation from middle school or high school, and not for other ceremonies that mark promotion from one grade to the next. Districts and institutions of higher education can still continue to choose to hold virtual or drive-through/drive-in ceremonies instead after July 6. Only virtual ceremonies can be held before July 6