ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The University of New Mexico is gearing up for its first in-person commencement on Saturday since December 2019. But it’s not in-person for everyone. The university is only allowing graduates to attend the outdoor commencement at University Stadium; Guests and families are not allowed.
However, with some large events like the New Mexico Activities Association state basketball championships happening at UNM’s indoor venue, the Pit, many families are wondering why they can’t go to graduation.
“It’s heartbreaking because these kids worked so hard to graduate and they want to have their family and their friends up there with them and we’re not able to,” said Bobbie Palmeri, whose daughter is graduating on Saturday. “It’s so frustrating as a parent that we can’t share this with them.”
Of the 3,500 UNM students able to participate in commencement, about 1,200 are signed up. They will sit six feet apart and in every other row. KRQE News 13 asked UNM for an interview multiple times but no one agreed to go on camera.
A spokesperson with UNM sent a response explaining why the decision to not allow guests was made. In part, the spokesperson said the planning for commencement happened in March when the county was still in the Yellow level of restrictions. Even though the county is now in Turquoise, the spokesperson said it’s simply too late to make changes or expand the already large event.
UNM also said simply looking at stadium capacity does not account for social distancing or how to manage crowds. Still, Palmeri said the university should’ve planned better.
“This should’ve been on their radar as soon as they opened up the sporting events to spectators. And the public schools like Rio Rancho and APS [Albuquerque Public Schools], they have spectators in attendance, limited, social distancing, and I just feel like UNM should’ve been able to do this,” Palmeri said.
UNM also explained that sticking to the decision discourages people from traveling all over the state into New Mexico during a pandemic. It said the state championships, which allowed 3,500 in the Pit, was able to happen because it was planned under NMAA guidelines and on a different timeline.
UNM’s graduation on Saturday can be streamed on YouTube, Facebook, or the university’s website. The following is UNM’s full response to KRQE’s inquiry:
“We are looking forward to an in-person commencement on Saturday at University Stadium. Planning the largest commencement ceremony in the state during a pandemic drove the decision not to allow guests and was intended to ensure that our student would be able to walk, travel plans would not be upended, and our community would remain safe. We appreciate the support and patience of the friends and family who would like to attend, and can empathize with their frustration. Our Lobo graduates have endured a challenging year and they deserve a memorable celebration as they begin the next chapter of their lives.
- Commencement planning for the spring class of 2021 began in early March, at which time the county was in yellow status with a projected plateau of cases continuing.
- Limiting attendance in an outdoor venue was our best option to ensure an in-person celebration for our graduates.
- A UNM graduation draws visitors from all over the united states, and indeed from other countries as well. The conditions did not support inviting a large number of guests from outside the state to participate, and we believe this remains true.
- We are only using the west side of University Stadium: The stage, platform participants and faculty members will be on the field
- The remainder of the stadium would not be conducive to audio and/or visual
- The event is being live streamed for those who cannot attend
- Arrangements with vendors needed to be finalized by early April (stage, audio/video, etc.)
- It is not viable to make changes at this time
- Approximately 3,500 students are eligible to participate in commencement – we needed to allow capacity for all graduates to sign up
- We currently have over 1,200 students signed up, and they will be seated six feet apart and every other row
- Looking simply at possible capacity of the stadium does not account for the need to seat guests six feet apart, or manage large crowds with distancing
- We realize that the county just went to Turquoise last week, but we are still complying with the social distancing requirements for large events and it’s not logistically feasible to move or coordinate relocated or expanding such a large event
- We worked through the NM Higher Education Department in planning commencement, in addition to adhering to public health orders
- We also do not want to encourage visitors to enter New Mexico from other states or other countries.
- The NMAA event at the Pit was planned differently under NMAA guidelines, with a different timeline, seating configuration, ticketing and was not inviting people months in advance to make travel arrangements to come to Albuquerque during a time when New Mexico was still encouraging limited travel.”