New Jersey’s high school graduating classes finally caught a break on May 26 when Gov. Phil Murphy approved outdoor, socially-distanced graduation ceremonies after July 6.

It was the latest sudden turn for a group of young people that Time Magazine, in its cover story this week, is calling “Generation Pandemic.” Beset by the highest level of unemployment in nearly 80 years, and with college looking even more uncertain than the job market, the Class of 2020 can at last celebrate their unique passage into a new phase of their lives.

As befits a pandemic that has killed more than 11,100 New Jersey residents since March 10, the governor’s office laid down the following restrictions on in-person commencement ceremonies after the governor’s announcement. They:

  • Must take place on or after July 6, 2020;
  • Must take place outdoors or be drive-in/drive-through (no indoor ceremonies will be allowed);
  • Must adhere to the relevant capacity limitation in place at the time of the ceremony (this may require districts to hold multiple ceremonies held over a period of time to ensure capacity restrictions are not exceeded);
  • Districts and institutions must determine the minimum number of staff and faculty necessary to facilitate commencement ceremonies and adjust attendance requirements accordingly;
  • Caps, gowns, diplomas, and other materials must be mailed to individual student homes, sent electronically where possible, or otherwise distributed in a manner that complies with social distancing guidelines;
  • All activities must be coordinated in consultation with municipal officials, such as the local Office of Emergency Management, local law enforcement, first responders, and local health officials.

More detailed guidance was posted Wednesday night by the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) and is available here.

Further guidance was posted Thursday night and is available here.

Additionally, the governor’s office said, commencements must be held only for graduation from middle school or high school, and not for other ceremonies that mark promotion from one grade to the next. Districts and institutions of higher education can continue to opt for virtual or drive-through/drive-in ceremonies held in accordance with Executive Order 142. Only virtual ceremonies can be held prior to July 6.

Murphy said during his daily press briefing on May 26 that for some schools with large graduating classes, adhering to social distancing may lead to multiple ceremonies “to be held across different times and even different days.”

Some school districts announced ceremonies immediately following the governor’s announcement, reported. In Cape May County, for example, Wildwood High School declared it is holding its ceremony on July 6 at Maxwell Field. But other districts told students they are instead sticking with plans for June virtual ceremonies because of health or logistical concerns.

“We believe that a virtual ceremony is in the best interest for the health and safety of our students, staff, and their families,” Christopher Irving, superintendent of schools in Teaneck, Bergen County, told Teaneck was especially hard-hit by the virus.