For the second year in a row, most Northland colleges will hold their commencement ceremonies virtually, so University of Minnesota Duluth student John Rosas Ramirez invited his parents up from the Twin Cities to a mock "grad walk" event so they could take part in a small moment of in-person celebration.
On a trip to Duluth when he was 3 years old, his parents took him and his siblings to UMD's campus and said one day he could attend.
"For many years, my parents have always stressed education," Rosas Ramirez said.
Now 22, Rosas Ramirez is set to graduate from UMD next month with degrees in graphic design and marketing.
"We are so proud," his mother, Mirna Ramirez said.
While Rosas Ramirez won't get to walk across the commencement stage with his family cheering him on, he said he's grateful to the university for allowing graduates the chance to have some semblance of a traditional commencement.
Dressed in caps and gowns, students held their diploma covers while posing for keepsake photographs in UMD's Kirby Student Center on Tuesday. This week the university began hosting small COVID-19-safe photo sessions for graduating students, who could each pose with their respective college dean. Many attended with family. Photography company GradImages took pictures of the students.
UMD will hold its virtual commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 8.
Lake Superior College and the University of Wisconsin-Superior will both have virtual commencements, while also allowing graduates to schedule a time to have their picture taken with a dean or chancellor, according to the schools' website. LSC's virtual commencement will take place Monday, May 17, while UW-Superior's will be held Saturday, May 15.
Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College will also hold a virtual commencement on Thursday, May 13.
"Once again we find ourselves celebrating apart rather than together, but it does not lessen our happiness or enthusiasm for the achievements of our students on this special occasion,” said FDLTCC President Stephanie Hammitt.
Instead of holding another virtual ceremony, the College of St. Scholastica will hold a modified in-person experience May 15 at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center. This year's graduates, as well as anyone who graduated last year and wants to participate, can invite up to three guests to watch them walk across a stage in front of an empty room and pose for a portrait.
The day will include Mass on campus followed by brunch in the college's dining hall. Graduates are welcome to invite up to three guests. The seating arrangement will not allow for more than four people per table.
Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College is also planning for a modified in-person experience. All four of the WITC campuses will do a series of small ceremonies that last about 15 minutes each on Friday, May 14. Students will receive their diploma from a college official.
"Graduates are able to bring a limited number of guests. Social distancing and masking protocols will be followed," said WITC-Superior Campus Administrator Jena Vogtman. "It was very important for students to get a chance to walk the stage in front of a few family members and friends with their classmates, so we have done our best to accommodate those wishes safely.”
Mariah Fitch, another soon-to-be UMD graduate, attended the photo opportunity on Tuesday with her mother and 4-month-old son. She said she was happy to be able to celebrate her accomplishments in a modified way, while also respecting the health of the community.
"I think this is the best approach," Fitch said.
This story was updated 11:15 a.m. April 22 with information from Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College. It was originally posted at 6 p.m. April 21.