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Spokane Universities Adapt To Provide Spring Graduation Ceremonies This Week

Doug Nadvornick/SPR

The pandemic has required Inland Northwest school districts and universities to be flexible this spring in designing commencement ceremonies.

This week, Gonzaga is celebrating in-person, while Washington State University Spokane has combined virtual and in-person events.“What it came down to is what can we do as close to being in person for these students to receive the recognition and create than fanfare and celebration for them, but also do it safely and in an environment Covid and the pandemic and also abiding by state regulations as to where we are currently as a county," said Heather Byrd, the campus events and community relations manager.

On Thursday, the WSU College of Medicine held a formal graduation-like online event, featuring speakers such as Founding Dean John Tomkowiak.

“This is the first College of Medicine commencement ceremony in which all of our amazing medicine, nutrition and exercise and physiology and speech and hearing science students will graduate as one unified college," he said.

On Thursday afternoon, the college invited students and parents to a drive-through ceremony through a campus parking lot. Cars entered one at a time, guided by university staff, until they rolled up in front of a stage. Professors read the names of graduating students who, if they chose, could exit their cars and walk, masked, up on stage to collect their diplomas. The colleges of Pharmacy and Nursing held similar drive-throughs on Friday.

This is also commencement weekend for Gonzaga. President Thayne McCulloh says the university asked students how they wanted to celebrate their graduation. They said in person, preferably.

“But the interesting thing was to find out that the very most important thing to them, assuming we were able to be in person, was that their parents or somebody really close to them as a family member would be able to be there and that they could celebrate with them," he said.

Gonzaga will hold five commencement ceremonies at Union Stadium in the Mead School District. Graduate and law school students will hold their ceremonies on Saturday afternoon. Individual colleges will award undergraduate degrees at three ceremonies on Sunday. Students will be allowed four guests. Those events can also be streamed online at Gonzaga’s website.