CPP plans drive-in graduation ceremonies

By Samantha Lopez, Mar. 02, 2021

Cal Poly Pomona is planning to host drive-in graduation ceremonies at the Fairplex in Pomona for the classes of 2020 and 2021 during the third week of May.

In addition to drive-in ceremonies, CPP will be hosting virtual ceremonies on May 29 through May 30 for those that want to celebrate with family members and graduates who are unable to attend the physical events.

Dan Montplaisir, vice president for University Advancement, said graduates will be required to RSVP to their commencement ceremony by the deadline or they will not be able to participate. This deadline is still being established.

“Family and friends will be required to stay in their car,” Montplaisir said. “But our hope is that graduates will be able to walk across the stage and receive their diploma cover.”

Grace Johnson | The Poly Post

This hope is facilitated by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health guidelines, according to Helen Yniguez, director of Special Events and Projects. Current guidelines require everyone, including graduates, to stay in their cars. But, as LA County’s cases continue to fall and vaccinations continue to be rolled out, CPP is hopeful that graduates who wish to, may be able to cross the stage come May.

Due to the large number of graduates, it is anticipated, according to Montplaisir, that there will be between 18 and 20 separate ceremonies from May 20 through May 23, with a limitation of 500 cars per ceremony.

The event will be hosted at the Fairplex to adhere to health guidelines due to the large open area. However, to help further reduce contact between others, the traditional stage party will be limited, and some graduation aspects will be pre-recorded.

The decision to conduct drive-in and virtual ceremonies came from a February survey CPP emailed to 12,781 students. There were three options to choose from: drive-in ceremonies, drive-thru event with no ceremony and a virtual ceremony in addition to either a drive-in or drive-thru ceremony.

For alumnus Keith Ma (visual communication design, ’20), he chose to complete the questionnaire but not participate in any of the proposed versions. For him, obtaining his degree in the mail was enough celebration.

“I was looking forward to being able to walk and shake President Coley’s hand,” Ma said. “After a while during the pandemic, I was able to accept that that graduation ceremony would never happen for me and decided that it was okay not to attend.”

Ma was among the 1,200 of students who chose not to participate in any ceremony including a virtual ceremony. The drive-in option was the top choice, according to Yniguez, by 3,540 votes.

“Every student we talked to in our initial focus group and surveys wanted two things: they wanted their families to celebrate with them, and they wanted to walk across the stage,” Yniguez said. “We believe that we have found a way to offer them the ability to have their closest family members and friends with them.”

Yniguez added that CPP will continue to talk to the county health department and other universities to determine the best option to celebrate “our graduates’ achievements and the transition from student to alumnus.”

As for the future of graduations following 2021, Yniguez said that even if CPP can hold commencement on campus, it will most likely need to be smaller groups of graduates. How it will be conducted and limited will depend on the progress of the pandemic.

After postponing the 2020 ceremonies, Montplaisir said that CPP has been working to establish the best option to celebrate in a safe and appropriate manner.

“We think it’s important to celebrate our graduates now instead of holding onto the hope that circumstances could change in the near future,” Montplaisir said. “We’ve learned that… the future is unknown, especially in terms of large group events. The longer we wait, more grads are likely to move out of town for jobs and life moves on.”

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