For many students, graduation and commencement are events they’ve looked forward to since the beginning of their freshman year. Students and their families are encouraged to attend both celebrations as UT commemorates and honors students for their perseverance, commitment and dedication to their studies during their four years.
Commencement and other celebrations were halted by UT in 2020 due to the onset of the pandemic, but resumed in 2021. To allow students and their guests to feel more comfortable and secure in their health, UT should require all participants to submit a negative COVID-19 test result before attending University-wide commencement this year.
Presently, Austin’s community risk level is low. This means that Travis County citizens are recommended to follow their own discretion for masking guidelines whenever in contact with people outside their own social bubble and home.
However, the University has a large community of students, faculty and staff. While students tend to follow UT and Austin’s set of COVID-19 guidelines and protocols, UT shouldn’t expect outside community members to do the same.
Additionally, commencement could possibly lead to a rise in COVID-19 cases for both UT and Austin. Since 30% of COVID-19 cases were reported to be the highly contagious omicron subvariant BA.2, requiring a negative COVID-19 test result before commencement would check attendants’ health status before entry and ease concerns before the ceremony.
“I mean, (a required COVID-19 test result) would make (someone) definitely feel more comfortable. I’ve been to big gatherings like basketball games and stuff … where tests weren’t required. People around you would sit without masks, and you wouldn’t know if they’re even vaccinated,” Tiba Al Khafaji, communication and leadership junior, said. “You’re not sure if they weren’t exposed, and it’s very risky. And I think if I would (go), if I knew that people around me had a negative COVID test, that would for sure make me feel more comfortable in going because I would know my risks.”
Furthermore, students aren’t limited in the amount of guests they’re allowed to bring to commencement. While this gives students the advantage and consideration to celebrate with people that are most important to them, it also allows for a large variety of people, putting immunocompromised students and guests at risk.
The University has encouraged Proactive Community Testing as well as vaccination and mask protocols since the campus reopened to in-person classes in January. However, PCT is only available for students and employees.
UT spokesperson Eliska Padilla said in an emailed statement that UT encourages vaccines, testing and the following of CDC masking guidance to minimize the spread of COVID-19.
Regardless of the recommendations the University has put in place, they should add clear protocols for commencement, as current recommendations are not enough for students and their guests to feel comfortable during commencement.
Attendance at commencement is encouraged, but not mandatory. The event is meant to celebrate the graduation of all Longhorns, giving students the opportunity to experience a grandiose ceremony for their achievements. Since this ceremony involves a vast amount of people, UT should require a negative COVID-19 test result to help minimize the spread of the virus. Without a negative COVID-19 test result before commencement, students and their families are put in a vulnerable position for wanting to celebrate their hard-earned achievements.
Ramos is a journalism freshman from Laredo, TX.