ANN ARBOR – A group of University of Michigan parents and students gathered outside the Michigan Union on Saturday afternoon calling for the school to offer an in-person graduation.
The university announced in February that its Spring Commencement will take place virtually for the second year, citing concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.
“We very much wish that we could hold a safe Commencement in Michigan Stadium, along with the many other celebration activities that are a fundamental part of our community life and traditions,” U-M President Mark Schlissel wrote in a letter to the campus community at the time. “We still do not know what public health measures will need to be in place in May to hold events like commencement.”
Tammy Dahlstrom helped organize the rally with two other U-M moms. Her daughter, a senior, is set to graduate in the spring. Dahlstrom said the group has been writing letters to the school for months to offer an in-person graduation.
“We want to do an opt-in, so if people aren’t comfortable they don’t have to attend,” said Dahlstrom. “But for those that want to, we want to have that available. We’ve got the largest stadium in the entire country, we’ve got other stadiums and auditoriums available. This week, University of Michigan announced that they’re doing an in-person graduation at U-M Dearborn. There’s no real reason why we can’t do it.”
Dahlstrom said the group wants one graduation ceremony at Michigan Stadium, which could be smaller than normal years.
“The stadium holds over 107,000 people and that doesn’t include space on the field where they can socially distance six feet apart,” she said. “We’re fine with doing it safely. We can wear masks, we’ll socially distance, we’ll not have grandparents come.”
A university spokesman said there were only about 20 parents at the rally this weekend.
She said that her family is coming into town whether or not an in-person commencement ceremony will take place because they have a non-refundable hotel reservation.
“We’re coming no matter what,” she said. “To us, it’d make a heck of a lot more sense to have the university do something.”
The protesters held signs outside the union that read “HONK to support UMich Class of 2021 IN-PERSON, SAFE OPT-In Grad Ceremony.” Cars driving up and down S. State St. honked steadily as they passed the group.
Fifth-year senior at U-M, Claire DiFranco, attended the event with her mother, who learned about it through Facebook.
“There’s no perfect solution to this and we totally understand that,” said DiFranco. “But just seeing that other universities are giving their students an option for in-person graduation, I think the big thing we want is just them to know that we want that to and it would just mean a lot after the year that we’ve had to get that.”