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Montclair State University Plans Graduation Ceremonies Despite Pushback From Faculty

MONTCLAIR, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Most college seniors missed out on a traditional graduation after COVID-19 pushed ceremonies online.

But one New Jersey university is getting ready to hold in-person celebrations in the coming days.

After four memorable years at Montclair State University, an abrupt end due to the pandemic was tough for Jonathan Varano.

"I'm still sort of in shock that my semester got cut short," Varano said in an interview with CBS2's Jennifer DeAngelis.

Varano finished senior year virtually and was convinced he'd be graduating that way too.

"I've seen that other universities have been doing that, but there's something special here about Montclair and I figured they'd wait for the right time to do something in-person," he said.

And that time is now. The university is prepping for an in-person commencement, with 23 ceremonies spanning over six days starting on Saturday.

"I kinda always had faith," said Jherel Saunders-Dittimus, a Montclair State University student. "When I'm sitting there, it's probably gonna hit me. I'm probably going to cry."

Dr. Karen L. Pennington, the vice president for Student Development and Campus Life, says half of the class of 2020 is signed up.

"I think the fact that close to 2,000 of them said they still want to do it is indicative of the fact that this is important to them," Pennington said.

CBS2 has been told all ceremonies will stay under the state's 500-person limit. Students will be spread out on the football field and guests will be in the bleachers. Each student is allowed two pre-registered guests who will sit together, but stay six feet away from others. Masks will be required for the ceremony.

"Any small mistake by someone, unintentional, can lead into troubled waters," said Dr. Jamie Grinbger, a Montclair State University professor in the Department of Educational Foundations.

Dr. Grinberg is among more than 120 faculty members who signed a letter asking the university deans to reconsider the event, due to safety concerns.

"We want to honor our students," said Dr. Grinberg. "The idea is the right idea, the timing is what I find very problematic."

"Nobody was required to come to the ceremony," said Dr. Pennington. "We appreciate their concern, we share their concerns for student safety and family safety, so we've made sure that's gonna happen."

"I'm grateful I'm able to end in a good place," said Varano.

Varano and his classmates will end their journey where it began: on campus.

For more information on commencement and safety protocols, visit

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