New Jersey Governor Okays In-Person Graduation Ceremonies

May 26, 2020 Updated: May 26, 2020

Students in New Jersey can gather in public to celebrate their graduation, but they will have to wait until summer, said Gov. Phil Murphy.

The Democratic governor announced Tuesday that in-person, outdoor graduation ceremonies can be held starting July 6, with continued social distancing.

“I am proud to say that you will have your opportunity to join with your classmates and families to celebrate your graduation,” Murphy said during a press briefing. “Our goal is to ensure that our students are giving the sendoffs they richly deserve, and which they have been working toward. We want them to celebrate and to be celebrated by their families, friends and the educators who helped get them there.”

He said this order applied to high schools, colleges, and any other graduations.

“Certainly these will be graduations will be unlike any others,” said Murphy. “The steps we’re taking are necessary to ensure the health and safety of everyone in attendance, but we’re equally as confident that no one will ever forget the way we will celebrate the class of 2020.”

Murphy had been under pressure from students, parents, and school officials, who demanded the state ease restrictions so that the class of 2020 can conclude their already disrupted senior year with commencement ceremonies.

Earlier this month, three New Jersey high school seniors filed a lawsuit against Murphy, alleging his stay-at-home executive orders preventing them from graduating in public violate their First Amendment right to assembly.

The lawsuit claimed Murphy’s Executive Order 104 suspending gathering at schools is invalid, because state education officials lack the legal authority to control whether a school holds a commencement ceremony.

“The present prohibition of schools form holding a socially responsible commencement ceremony stands without any rational basis and reason,” the suit read. “It is utterly arbitrary.”

Meanwhile, in the neighboring state of New York, students and families are still waiting for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to make a decision on whether graduation ceremonies can take place. An online petition calling for in-person ceremonies in New York has gained more than 6,000 signatures in less than a week.

In New York City, however, Mayor Bill de Blasio said last month that there will be a single large virtual ceremony for all seniors graduating from public high schools. He said individual schools can also hold their own graduation ceremonies, but those will have to be online too.