Following many calls to hold graduations outdoors, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Sunday he will permit such ceremonies beginning at the end of the month.
Governor Cuomo says the ability to hold outdoor graduations is contingent upon no further COVID-19 outbreaks or a significant change for the worse in metrics that have been used to measure progress of the state as well as counties and regions.
“We’re going to allow socially-distanced graduations outdoors with up to 150 people total beginning June 26. That’s when the schools start to graduate, high schools, and it gives us a couple of weeks between now and then, God forbid the number changes, but schools need to plan,” Cuomo says. “With the progress we’ve made so far and, if we continue this trajectory, we’ll be able to do that.”
Republican Assemblyman Colin Schmitt on June 2 sent more than 3,000 petition signatures from local residents to Governor Cuomo supporting socially distant in-person, summertime graduation ceremonies.
“Our state was one of the last states to authorize in-person, socially-distant graduation ceremonies. It is the right move. I was proud to call on my governor very early on to do so,” Schmitt says. “And we had over 5,000 family members, friends, educators and graduates themselves sign a petition that we sent to the governor urging him to do this. So this is a big win.”
Schmitt, whose 99th District includes a portion of Orange County and one town in Rockland, had formally requested that Cuomo and state Education Department allow the outdoor graduations, a request that came the week before he sent the petition.
“I’m urging schools districts that I represent to take all steps necessary to plan their ceremony or additional in-person ceremonies as appropriate,” says Schmitt.
Others had been calling on Cuomo to allow in-person, socially-distanced graduations, including State Senator Shelley Mayer of the 37th district, who chairs the Education Committee. She spearheaded a letter at the end of May, a day after New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced he would allow such ceremonies. Fellow Democratic Senator Jen Metzger is one who signed onto Mayer’s letter.
“Look, this is like the most important milestone in a young person’s life. They’ve been building up to this day, our high school seniors, from the age of 5,” Metzger says. “It’s a huge turning point for them, whether they’re going to college or entering the workforce, and for their families and for their teachers and everyone, and they should be able to have this day, especially since kids, kids have given up, have had to give up a lot during this pandemic.”
The May 27th letter refers specifically to holding high school graduations outdoors and in person in July, by maintaining social distancing and following public health guidelines set by the state Department of Health. And now, this can happen sooner. Metzger says that before Cuomo’s announcement, a number of schools had been lining up graduation ceremonies at a drive-in movie theatre in Warwick, in Orange County. She says other parts of her 42nd District were searching for creative ways to hold graduations and hoping for outdoor ceremonies.
“I’ve talked to school administrators in Sullivan County,” says Metzger. “They don’t have a drive-in but their kids, their parents, they really want to be able to have these ceremonies.”
Again, Schmitt, of New Windsor.
“I feel very positive about this development of news, and our graduates who’ve achieved so much, who have gone through a lot, just like all of us, deserve this recognition and achievement of as normal a graduation ceremony as possible, and they’re going to be able to have that now,” Schmitt says.
Meantime, the Mid-Hudson Region started Phase Two of reopening Tuesday.