TRENTON, NJ - After New Jersey state officials recently told residents that in-person commencement ceremonies were not in the cards due to the coronavirus pandemic, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy offered a ray of hope to those hoping that actual in-person graduation events could happen at some point in the coming summer months.
Near the conclusion of his daily New Jersey COVID-19 task force briefing, a reporter asked Murphy if those school districts still holding out hope that traditional in-person commencement ceremonies could be held in July should actually have that hope, the governor said, "Should school districts, should students, should moms and dads hold out hope that we can somehow have some form of an in-person commencement? The answer is they should hold out hope. I have that same hope. I've got nothing to report, but I have that same hope."
Later in the briefing Murphy added, "This commencement year is unlike any in any of our lives. This is literally, I suspect it's something akin to graduating from high school in 1944... June of '44 probably less than a month after D-Day. It's in that's sort of realm. Acknowledging how unusual this is. how much respect we still have for the accomplishment even though we can't gather in the way that we would otherwise gather. It's a big deal. This is a big deal. Certainly high school, but I would even say a middle school, an elementary school, certainly a college."
Murphy's comments on commencement ceremonies came on the same day that he issued an Executive Order that allows some additional outdoor recreational areas and businesses to restart their operations effective Friday, May 22, with the governor stating that New Jersey is in "Stage 1" of the state's reopening.
Less than a week ago, Murphy said of the fact no in-person events could be held, "It stinks. There's no other way to put it. and we feel awful. But we also got to make sure we don't, by celebrating this year, that we lose somebody. And we can't do that, particularly in the intergenerational spread of this virus."
At that same time on May 11, New Jersey State Police Col. Patrick Callahan said, "What we are discouraging -- and the intent of my letter to Department of Education in public and non-public schools -- was directing students to gather on the front lawn of the school, at a football stadium, at a town hall, because what you're doing is inviting them to gather, which is in violation of the EO (Executive Order No. 107)," he continued. "I think there was confusion, that people who are out of their cars, that was the issue."
The call for in-person commencement ceremonies has spawned a petition -- entitled 'NJ Seniors deserve a proper graduation ceremony' -- located at change.org which states, "Governor Murphy, while our state has been very supportive of your actions during the pandemic, the parents of the graduating class of 2020 find it very unreasonable for you to ban all graduation ceremonies other than virtual ones. While we understand the severity of the health crisis we are facing we believe that our seniors have been waiting for this moment for many years and it does not have to be an all or nothing option.
While you have opened golf courses, parks, beaches, boardwalks, Targets, Walmart’s, Lowe’s, Home Depot’s, liquor stores etc, we are certain it is possible to find a creative way for the class of 2020 to graduate in the traditional manner while following the social distancing rules set forth.
We urge you to take this under serious consideration as this is “essential” to our children’s emotional, mental and social well being."