Officials at Missouri State University-West Plains (MSU-WP) have decided to cancel the 2020 in-person commencement ceremonies scheduled for Aug. 8.
A recent surge in COVID-19 cases locally and in the region prompted the cancellation, university officials said.
“Despite our wishes and despite all of our planning, the risk of holding commencement has, over the past couple of weeks, quickly overtaken all the reasons we hold this event,” Interim Chancellor Dennis Lancaster said.
“Seeing our graduates acknowledged for their hard work and talent is the highlight of Missouri State-West Plains’ academic year, so a decision to cancel – while always a possibility – was not an easy one to make,” he added.
Multiple ceremonies planned
On July 16, university officials announced plans to conduct three in-person commencement ceremonies on Aug. 8. The multiple ceremonies were designed to allow for social distancing and included the use of masks by university officials, the graduates and their six selected guests to help protect those attending from possible exposure to COVID-19.
But the rapidly growing rate of positive COVID-19 case numbers locally and throughout Missouri and Arkansas since that time forced university officials to re-evaluate their plans.
“The health of our students, their families, our faculty and staff members, and of the community itself is of the utmost importance right now,” Lancaster stressed. “With the number of daily positive COVID-19 cases now in the double digits in Howell County and with the spike in cases in both Arkansas and Missouri in the past week, to have commencement right now – even in a limited way – would put all those folks at significant risk. We can’t do that.”
Lancaster said the decision to cancel in-person commencement came after consultation with officials at the Howell County Health Department and the Missouri State University campus in Springfield.
“Along with Missouri State System President Clif Smart and our counterparts on the Missouri State-Springfield campus, we have sought out the best and latest information throughout the pandemic to inform our decisions,” Lancaster explained. “In this case, we also have relied heavily on the information and advice of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and locally, the Howell County Health Department. Our thanks to Chris Gilliam and his team for their hard work and willingness to join us in this fight.”
Virtual ceremony details
University officials will now celebrate MSU-WP’s 2020 graduates through a virtual ceremony on Aug. 8. The ceremony will be available to graduates and the general public at 10 a.m. on the university’s commencement website.
“While we recognize that this is not the ceremony that we all hoped could take place, we are proud of this group of graduates for finishing strong even when classes were moved online during the spring semester,” Lancaster said. “We will celebrate their resiliency and recognize their accomplishments in this virtual ceremony. We hope our graduates and their families will join us online that day to a mark this important milestone.”
The virtual ceremony will include remarks and congratulations from college officials and the reading of graduates’ names along with a slide featuring each graduate and the degree awarded. Each graduate is encouraged to send a photo of themselves to WPUnivComm@MissouriState.edu by Aug. 5. The photo will be included on the graduate’s slide.
Graduates also will receive a commencement program, diploma cover and commemorative gift by mail in August.
In addition, they are invited to participate in the May 2021 in-person commencement ceremony at the West Plains Civic Center, if public gatherings and large events have safely resumed by that time.
For more information about commencement, visit wp.MissouriState.edu/Commencement or contact the academic affairs office at 417-255-7272 or email WPAcademics@MissouriState.edu.