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In this file photo, graduates wave to their friends and loved ones in the crowd as Marshall University’s Winter Commencement Ceremony takes place on Dec. 14, 2019, at Mountain Health Arena in Huntington. The spring 2020 commencement ceremony, tentatively scheduled for Aug. 8, has been canceled.

HUNTINGTON — Marshall University canceled the spring 2020 commencement ceremony tentatively scheduled for Aug. 8 at the Joan C. Edwards Stadium as cases of COVID-19 continue to steadily increase in the region.

The ceremony had already been delayed from May 2 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an email message Tuesday to eligible graduates, Marshall President Jerome Gilbert called the decision “incredibly difficult” and said the university will honor the Class of 2020 at the winter commencement planned for Saturday, Dec. 12, tentatively at the Mountain Health Arena in downtown Huntington.

According to a release from the university, Gilbert said when the university announced the August ceremony more than two months ago, it was predicated on COVID-19 infection levels remaining relatively low.

“Unfortunately, West Virginia and Cabell County have experienced a steady and significant increase in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks,” he said. “We consulted with the Cabell-Huntington Health Department and our own Marshall Health chief medical officer, and they do not believe it is safe to host such a large, in-person gathering due to the increased risk of transmitting the virus, even with the measures we had planned to protect graduates and guests.

“As one of the newest Sons and Daughters of Marshall, you have reached a significant milestone — one that certainly calls for celebration. I look forward to welcoming the Class of 2020 back as soon as we can safely host large events once again.”

Gilbert said the decision was made Tuesday so anyone who was planning to travel to Huntington for the event had adequate advance notice.

Marshall’s registrar sent eligible graduates an email last week to let them know the university was monitoring the COVID-19 situation in the community and to alert them there was a possibility the ceremony would not go on as planned, according to the release. Since that message was sent, the number of cases statewide has continued to climb and West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice on Monday issued an executive order that closed down fairs and festivals, and prohibits indoor and outdoor concerts.

Tuesday’s announcement relates only to the graduation ceremony and public celebration; it does not change the semester completion date for students, nor does it affect the timeline for students earning their degrees.

Members of the Class of 2020 should monitor their official Marshall email account or visit Marshall’s commencement website for more information as plans for Winter Commencement develop.

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