Houston’s Oldest Law School Hosted 13 Commencement Ceremonies Over Two Days to Honor Graduates, Meet COVID-19 Guidelines
The COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated a bevy of changes to higher education events, and the honorary commencement ceremony is no exception.
When the George R. Brown Convention Center — the planned location of South Texas College of Law Houston’s 2020 commencement — no longer was practicable, Houston’s oldest law school sought other options. After surveying the students, South Texas decided upon the graduates’ overwhelming preference, which was to host 13 unique, separate hooding ceremonies on the school campus on Saturday, Oct. 17 and Sunday, Oct. 18.
Students from the graduating classes of fall 2019, spring 2020, and summer 2020 had the option of registering for seven different ceremonies, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., on Saturday; and six dedicated ceremonies, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., on Sunday.
This option accommodated 20 students per ceremony — plus eight of their chosen guests — in South Texas’ Joe Green Auditorium.
“From the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, STCL Houston acted swiftly and effectively not only to protect the health and safety of our community, but also to focus on supporting our students,” said South Texas College of Law Houston President and Dean Michael F. Barry. “A commencement ceremony marks an important transition from the world of academia to the world of practice. As our students have displayed impressive flexibility and creativity over the past seven months, we’re delighted to honor them with this distinctive experience. While this is not the commencement any of us had planned, I am confident that our graduates and their families will appreciate the efforts we’ve taken to enable these students to walk the stage and celebrate this important event.”
As with commencements in years past, participating students donned full graduation regalia, were treated to a commencement address by Barry, and received individual recognition on the commencement stage. Each ceremony included attendance by a variety of faculty members and board members, despite limited space in the auditorium.
“I am eternally grateful for the opportunity not only to be able to have a graduation ceremony to share with family and friends, but also for the way STCL Houston and Dean Barry have really been there for our graduating class through the ups and downs we’ve experienced this year,” said Ivy B. Cuellar, spring 2020 STCL Houston graduate. “It really has meant the world to us.”
Valedictorians of the spring and summer classes —Kirsten Vesel ’20 and Matthew Morgan ’20 — pre-recorded commencement addresses, which family and friends can view on the STCL Houston website at www.stcl.edu/grad.
The school’s strict COVID-19 protocols — including campus entry via the dedicated ReturnSafe app, directional signage in hallways and stairwells, and elevator use by only four people at a time — remained in place for these events. Similarly, all individuals on campus were required to wear a facial covering at all times and maintain social distancing of at least six feet. To limit exposure between groups, graduates and their guests gathered outside the San Jacinto Street entrance for campus check-in, entered the building as an entire party together, and left immediately after taking professional photographs in the school’s atrium following the commencement ceremonies.