Virginia Western Community College 2016 grads (copy)

A 2016 graduate sends a message during Virginia Western Community College’s commencement.

The coronavirus claimed its first higher education spring commencement dates in the region Tuesday as Virginia Western and New River community colleges announced their May ceremonies are canceled.

The decision came from Virginia Community College System Chancellor Glenn DuBois, who said that the state’s 23 community colleges would be rescheduling their graduation celebrations until a later date.

“While it’s a celebration of individual achievements, it’s a community celebration. Many of the same family members who travel far and wide to attend are at particularly high risk with this virus. And the hugs and high-fives that come naturally to so many of us in that moment fly in the face of the social distancing practices we are asked to observe,” he wrote in a statement on the VCCS website.

New River’s news release said the “cancellation is in compliance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance to avoid gatherings of 50 people or more over the next eight weeks.”

The college plans to hold a ceremony for 2020 graduates at a later date “at a time and manner that is safer for all concerned,” according to the NRCC statement.

NRCC — located in Dublin — also announced it will be moving the majority of its classes to an online format when students return from break on March 23.

Virginia Western has canceled in-person classes until April 5, according to its website.

DuBois’ decision came on the same day Gov. Ralph Northam asked Virginians to limit nonessential gatherings to 10 people or less to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

“Everyone must play a role to help flatten the curve and mitigate the spread of this virus, and that starts with social distancing ... Public health relies on every individual using common sense and making responsible decisions. We can and will get through this difficult time. But we must work together to do so,” Northam said in a news release.

Virginia Tech and Radford University have not yet made final decisions on what they’ll do about their spring commencements.

Tech has canceled all scheduled events through April 30, according to university spokesman Mark Owczarski.

“Virginia Tech continues to review and assess whether we will hold events after the end of the semester, including and especially commencement. As of now, I have no information regarding a new decision, but ... our situation is changing daily,” he wrote in an email.

A Radford University spokeswoman said no decisions have been made in regard to graduation.

Ferrum College, Hollins University, Roanoke College, Virginia Military Institute and Washington and Lee University have not announced any cancellations either.

A petition started by Roanoke College students on change.org is asking the college to keep — or at least postpone — its graduation ceremony.

“Our college is small enough where we could still hold our commencement (even with special restrictions if needed). The senior class of 2020 have worked tirelessly for 4 years to see every special and important event being ripped away from them. This is affecting us in more ways that we can count,” the petition reads.

The plea to the college has received more than 600 of the 1,000 signatures it’s seeking by Tuesday afternoon.

Universities across the nation have been holding unofficial senior ceremonies, according to The New York Times. Wellesley held one last Saturday, with some referring to it as “fauxmencement” or “fake graduation.”

Staff writers Mike Allen, Alison Graham and Claire Mitzel contributed to this report.

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