Student drafts plan for in-person commencement

CAROLINE CHRISTENSEN, News Editor

Editors’ note: According to a statement to KWWL by the university, the total capacity for the UNI-DOME is currently limited to 2,600 people during the pandemic.

After her petition urging UNI to reconsider an in-person graduation ceremony garnered over 2,000 signatures in about a week, senior digital communications major Mili Saliu has written a letter outlining a plan to safely hold an in-person ceremony. Saliu provided the letter to President Mark Nook and Provost Jim Wohlpart. along with a printed PDF of the signatures on the petition.

The letter includes a three-step process consisting of “relocation, (COVID-19) precautions, and disinfection.”

Saliu suggested the ceremony be split into three ceremonies and relocated to the UNI-Dome, which holds approximately 16,000 people in non-pandemic times. At a 15% capacity rate, about 2,400 seats would be available for guests of the approximately 1,500 graduates.

“If we were to split the graduating class into the three respective ceremonies, COE, CSBS, and then CBA and CHAS, estimating that approximately 500 students would be present at each ceremony, at a minimum, each student would be able to safely choose two guests to attend the ceremony,” she wrote. “(This leaves) us with approximately 1,500 people in attendance, leaving us with an estimated value of a 9.2% capacity rate, which (is) well under the number of seats that are allowed for an athletic event.”

Saliu also emphasizes the importance of social distancing and wrote that there will be an additional 1,000 seats left in this plan, giving faculty, staff, students and guests plenty of room to spread out.

“I’m not really asking them to change the entire graduation process; I’m just asking them to give students the graduation they deserve,” Saliu said in an interview with the Northern Iowan. “All they want to do is walk across a stage with a couple of family members present, and I don’t think that ask is a difficult one.”

Saliu’s letter cites other universities, like Grand View University in Des Moines, which held a successful and safe 2020 commencement on Aug. 15 at Wells Fargo Arena featuring guests and guest speakers. Shenandoah University in Virginia also held an in-person ceremony in October 2020 with reduced numbers, and Texas Tech plans to hold an in-person ceremony on May 14.

Saliu is scheduled to have a meeting with Provost Wohlpart and administrative assistant Amy Kliegl this Friday, Feb. 26, where she will explain her plan for an in-person ceremony.