The Class of 2020 for many institutions has just finished with their project works and exams and eagerly awaiting news on whether there would be a graduation ceremony.
Indeed, some final year students have been concerned about whether their graduation medals, in the case of KNUST, would be mailed to them if there happens to be no ceremony. Of course, all this questions would not have arisen had the Coronavirus not been with us. With students waiting anxiously to hear from university authorities, I try to explore the different angles of a possible physical graduation ceremony or an alternative “click-to-graduate” one as many are calling it.
As a preliminary matter, I must bring some perspective to the possible ramifications of the choices available to school authorities. Data and research is beginning to show that the Coronavirus has now become prevalent in young people who are also asymptomatic. With the disease ravaging in the US, the head of the CDC – Dr. Robert Redfield had said that younger people have helped increase the spread of infections as many of them would have visited friends, parks, restaurants and beaches during the partial reopening. Not to sound grim but it has also been discovered that there is a high propensity of the spread of the virus at merrymaking occasions where people tend to be relaxed and not cautious. Reconciling these two revelations with the idea of bringing young people and their relatives together for merrymaking would give anyone sleepless nights.
In principle, I am against any event that would bring scores of people together with the possibility of participants flouting preventive protocols. The physical graduation ceremony if not properly organized and hosted would seek to do just that. Graduands and their relatives beseeching the campus would create large crowds of people who would be sharing washrooms and taking pictures without physical distancing and with no masks on. The unfortunate thing is that, the spread of the virus at the graduation ceremony might go undetected as many of the infected might show no symptoms. I can understand and sympathize with graduates and parents who do not want to miss out on such a milestone event in their lives. However, we must understand that the virus is a particularly relentless adversary that catches you off-guard when you decide to engage in life as usual for a brief moment or day.
In spite of all that has been said, if universities believe they can properly plan and conduct such an event, we can only help in giving a few pointers and not wash our hands off the process in the usual Ghanaian “do-it-and-lets-see” manner. In doing so, we hope our inputs would help make the ceremony a success and not a coronavirus orchard where attendees would pick up the virus. The universities in their endeavor to conduct graduation ceremonies must make sure to handle everything – from photography to food and drinks. This would enable the university as organizers to control and monitor everything that transpires on their premises during the ceremony. The high responsibility and duty of care that hosting such an event in this pandemic time places on school authorities cannot be fully fulfilled if aspects of the event are left to private individuals who are driven by profits and other motivations aside image and reputation. The university has an image to protect, it has a brand and an even bigger responsibility as organizer and host of the ceremony to make sure attendees do not suffer any reasonably foreseeable hazards caused by their presence at the ceremony during and even after the event.
Properly so, I propose that all events during the ceremony should be held outside on parks, pavements, foyers and other open spaces that can be useful. The KNUST for example can consider hosting some of the events at the Paa Joe where movements in and out can easily be checked. Similarly, all refreshments must be done al fresco and handled by the school. This would ensure that the dining setting is appropriately regulated in accordance with social distancing protocols. In the event that the university cannot handle refreshments, that aspect of the ceremony should be prohibited entirely so that attendees do not come and dine on campus to cause problems for school authorities. In the matter of photography, organizers must engage the services of a wide range of photographers that it would train on social distancing rules and how to conduct the picture taking process. Some of the instructions could entail no hugging and touching during photo sessions and once individuals decide to take off their masks for a photo, there should be no more talking.
Universities – aside the provision of hand washing points, checking of temperatures at entrances, making sure everyone wears a mask and keeping at least 2 meters of distance – must ensure that venues for the ceremony are disinfected after every session. Washrooms should only be used by two people at a time depending on the size of the facility while cleaners are also available to disinfect the place regularly. Caps and other paraphernalia must not be thrown in the air as a form of cheers. Hence, gowns should be collected at exits once the ceremony is done. Medals must be worn by graduands themselves as sharing of items from person to person must not be allowed. For instance, sanitizers should be provided at points where students would sanitize pick medals or awards and decorate themselves with it and move on.
In fact, all these must be done with the heavy deployment of the university’s campus security and other stewards, porters and ushers who would be well-versed in the protocols and rules to ensure compliance. Organizers must also work with health officials and the national ambulance service to ensure that prompt assistance can be provided in case of emergencies. Of course, we can only pray for a favorable weather on the days of the ceremony for all things to come together for our good.
Anthony Kangah is a final year student of KNUST and Onetime PRO of the Land Management and Development Students’ Association. He is the current Speaker of Faculty of Built Environment Students’ Society Parliament.