After several weeks of inconsistent messaging, Tufts University announced in an email on April 8 that it will allow February, summer and remote graduating students to participate in the in-person ceremonies for their departments. Students who are not currently enrolled in surveillance testing are able to request free tests from the university to be eligible for these ceremonies.
The April 8 email, signed by Jo Ann Jack, associate dean of student services, gave students just over a day’s notice to register their intent to join in-person departmental ceremonies, should they want to. Ceremonies began on Friday, April 16.
“We apologize for the short notice, but this plan has just become possible and we wanted to give you this opportunity,” Jack wrote in the email.
The email outlines the requirements for those who want to return to campus for the ceremony. Students must arrive two days in advance of their departmental ceremonies to be tested for COVID-19 by Tufts, regardless of vaccination status. Students who receive a test result other than negative will be barred from the ceremonies, although they may request a second test and can isolate in the Mods. Tufts will not provide housing to anyone traveling to campus for graduation ceremonies.
Dean of Student Affairs Camille Lizarríbar said the university has been working throughout the semester to develop a safe graduation plan.
“We were able to develop a testing process that complied with the university's COVID safety protocols, and that allowed us to increase the number of students we could safely include in the ceremonies who are not currently in person,” Lizarríbar wrote in an email to the Daily.
Previously, the university had sent contradicting messages to February graduates, confusing and frustrating parents and students. An email to all graduates on March 8 implied that February 2021 graduates might be invited to in-person ceremonies on a school-by-school basis. Later that day, the School of Arts and Sciences and School of Engineering sent an email inviting their in-person graduates to small ceremonies in April and May that would be recorded.
However, this email specified that remote students would not be allowed to come to campus for graduation ceremonies due to COVID-19 protocols. The following day, the university told February graduates that they would not be permitted to attend graduation ceremonies in person, without exception.
“We cannot make any exceptions to the policy because doing so would be unfair and inequitable to the other students and would also jeopardize our compliance with the COVID-19 safety protocols,” the email sent to February graduates read.
The Massachusetts COVID-19 Safety Standards for Commencement and Graduation Ceremonies require social distancing and adherence to strict capacity limits but do not address traveling or testing protocols in preparation for graduation ceremonies.
Nathan Mitchell, who is one of 129 students who graduated from a Tufts undergraduate program in February, will attend the Tufts University School of Medicine in the fall. Before the April 8 announcement, Mitchell would have been prohibited from attending in-person department ceremonies, despite his being vaccinated, getting tested regularly for COVID-19 through Tufts and working for TEMS.
Mitchell said that not getting to walk in a graduation ceremony with his peers from the Class of 2021 would change the way he viewed his time at Tufts.
“To me, it seems like I worked very hard to go through these four years," he said in an interview the day before Tufts alerted February graduates of the new policy. "And they're literally kicking you out the door, or it's as if I just didn't pay enough money to be able to graduate because I didn't give them the money for this last semester.”
With the policy changed, Mitchell was able to walk in the Department of Biology ceremony with his peers on April 19.
“I am very happy with the university for changing its earlier decision,” Laurie Mitchell, his mother, wrote to the Daily just after the policy change was announced. “This has restored my belief in Tufts University.”