Hillsdale holds outdoor commencement ceremony, defyng governor's lockdown orders

Hillsdale College hosted an outdoor commencement ceremony despite coronvirus restrictions.

While Michigan has an executive order that allows for outside gatherings of 100 people, Hillsdale was expecting a a crowd of 2,600 attendees.

Hillsdale College hosted a three-day commencement event despite coronavirus restrictions. The private Michigan college hosted a dinner for graduates Thursday night, a party for seniors Friday night, and an outdoor graduation ceremony on Saturday.

In a statement released in April, Hillsdale College Provost Christopher VanOrman said, “We could not say goodbye to our graduating seniors without celebrating their accomplishments. We look forward to having them return to us for a three-day-long celebration.”

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Around 2,600 total visitors were expected to attend the event, raising concern among local officials, given Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order from June 1 which states that outdoor gatherings can have a maximum of 100 people as long as social distancing is maintained.

The college said in a news release published on its website that its event did not violate the governor’s order because “Although that order restricts the size of certain outdoor gatherings, it makes clear that ‘nothing in th[e] order shall be taken to abridge protections guaranteed by the state or federal constitution under these emergency circumstances,’ including the rights to free speech, assembly, association, and academic freedom secured by the First Amendment.”

In response to public health concerns, Hillsdale planned to require face masks for people attending the events. To allow for the college to meet social distancing regulations, Hillsdale’s City Council granted the college’s request for a noise variance. 

[RELATED: Colleges cancel commencement ceremonies amid coronavirus concerns]

Ryan Jarvi, a spokesman for Attorney General Dana Nessel, told Crain’s Detroit Business ahead of the event, “we trust the local law enforcement agencies to exercise their authority and discretion in their enforcement efforts.”

Hillsdale Police Chief Scott Hephner also commented, “I have been told that they have done research, gotten input from epidemiologists, and I believe, have reached out to the state for planning purposes, and their intent is to do it so they’re not in any technical violation.”

Hillsdale College did not respond to Campus Reform’s request for comment. 

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