By Shelby Smith
April 25, 2021
On April 16, 2021, Michigan saw 8,955 new COVID-19 cases, the second highest single-day total in the state. This comes exactly two weeks before the first of Michigan State University’s baccalaureate degree ceremonies. Commencement ceremonies are set to begin on Friday, April 30. On that day, a whopping 16 ceremonies for various colleges will rotate throughout the day and occur simultaneously at the parking lots of the following four on-campus locations: the Breslin Center, Spartan Stadium, Erickson Hall and the Auditorium. This will be the most packed campus has been since the initial online transition last March.
On the same day last year, Michigan saw only 1,204 new COVID-19 cases, but in-person commencement for the class of 2020 was a no-go. What’s the difference, then? There seems to be only one: a government mandate. The continued extension of Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order kept MSU from holding non-virtual ceremonies last spring. There is no such safeguard this year. Not as East Lansing bars are open and serving an irresponsible population, and not when MSU frat houses cavalierly continue day (and night) drinking business as usual with roaring parties, not a mask in sight.
Speaking of masks, the university requires all graduates and guests to “wear face masks at all times, even while walking to and from ceremony locations.” This is great in theory. In theory, masks have been mandatory inside and out, not only on MSU’s campus but in downtown East Lansing since last year. In reality, anyone who made a dreaded, double-masked trip to the Union to spend their MSU Print money before graduation knows full well that mask-wearing is taken as merely a suggestion. Not even all the university employees keep theirs on, and the students working at the too-close public computers certainly don’t.
So, what makes the university think masks will stay on once people are admitted to the ceremony, and that this won’t turn into a three-weekend super-spreader mega-event? Frankly, to the students who have been paying attention to their school since the beginning of this crisis, it seems like they know this fully well. But, if they can claim to be working “diligently to honor graduates while keeping health and safety at the forefront of all planning within the parameters of existing state government restrictions related to the pandemic,” then they can shrug and say they were doing what was allowed.
Some Spartan seniors can’t help but wonder if the only time MSU cares about their safety is when a government order mandates them to, or when there’s money on the line. It seems as though, if they can sidestep the blame when things go wrong, they’ll do whatever will make their current and potential donors happier. No matter the cost.
Of course, to miss one’s graduation is something to grieve, especially for those who have weathered especially rocky paths to get there. But imagine the grief if a simple walk across a parking lot lands a loved one in the hospital.
Together Spartans most certainly Will continue to exacerbate the COVID-19 pandemic.
Shelby Smith is a senior double majoring in English and professional and public writing with a concentration in creative writing. Outside her time spent on The Current and with the MSU Writing Center, Shelby likes to listen to audiobooks and hand embroider.