New push to allow parents to attend UW school in-person graduations

There is a new push to make sure parents can attend University of Wisconsin (UW) in-person graduations. Lawmakers at the state capitol have introduced a bill to do just that. 

The UW graduation is set for May 8. Undergrads get their ceremony at noon -- and graduate students will celebrate in a 4 p.m. ceremony. Camp Randall's capacity is roughly 80,000. But those graduates will not be bringing guests. 

"I think we’re definitely happy and grateful that there’s at least been an effort made to have it in-person, so we’re basically taking what we can get," said Ingrid Duffy, a graduating senior. 

Ingrid Duffy

Ingrid Duffy

Parents will have to watch virtually.

"I just feel like that’s a moment that you cannot replace, right?" said Anne Vondrak, a UW parent. "Even, if you go on for graduate degrees, which she plans to do, you only graduate from college one time. And so, as a parent, having made this journey with her, for the past four years, I would like to be there to witness it."

Anne Vondrak

Anne Vondrak

Now, a Wisconsin bill would require the University of Wisconsin System to allow a parent or guardian to attend if the school offers an in-person commencement.

"I graduated from the UW with many friends and classmates who were the very first person in their family to graduate from college. Their parents frequently acted as a source of inspiration and encouragement throughout their academic journey," said State Sen. Andre Jacque (R-De Pere), a sponsor of the bill. "It is a fairly basic expectation that UW campuses should be able to find a way to accommodate UW graduates by allowing their parents or guardians who provided emotional and financial support in getting them to their academic achievement a meaningful opportunity to attend their commencement celebration in recognition of their accomplishment."

UW spokesperson John Lucas issued this statement: 

"This was a difficult decision and we considered many options to try to provide a ceremony for students and families. But we were unable to do so for logistical and safety reasons. Many people are not yet fully vaccinated and highly contagious variants of COVID-19 are spreading rapidly. When allowing for six feet of physical distancing, even a venue as large as Camp Randall cannot accommodate both graduates and guests.
We solicited feedback from graduating seniors and while, ideally, they wish everyone could come together, they were willing to make the choices necessary to have an in-person graduation. We will be livestreaming the ceremonies so that families, friends and graduates who aren’t able to attend will be able to watch along with us." 

The bill only applies to UW schools offering in-person graduations. UW-Milwaukee's commencement is completely virtual.

"I’m going to press play on my computer at 10 a.m. on the 16th. I’m going to sit around a table with my parents. And that’s going to be it. I don’t get to get pictures with my friends. I don’t get to see my friends, it’s kind of disappointing," said Tanner Bykowski, a graduating senior at UW-Milwaukee.

UWM officials said they normally have 3,000 graduates and 10,000+ family members. But current health restrictions would mean only 264 graduates and 2,227 guests inside Panther Arena. 

Panther Arena, Milwaukee

Panther Arena, Milwaukee

The bill drafted does not apply to private schools.

Marquette University will hold graduation at American Family Field -- where each graduate will get two tickets. 

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"It’s great, I mean four years is a lot of work to put in, especially with engineering. So we kind of had that feeling that I was just going to be sitting at a computer by myself, being able to graduate, said Kristin Burke. "But my parents being able to be here is really, like, everything is kind of put in perspective now. They can see all of my hard work -- and being in-person is, I think, a really big contributor to that."

The Wisconsin legislature is not scheduled to be back in session until after UW-Madison's May 8 graduation. But two days later, the school plans to ease up with some COVID restrictions.

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