TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Pomp and Circumstance marches will be heard after all in New Jersey as the state said Tuesday that outdoor graduation ceremonies will be allowed starting in July.

Gov. Phil Murphy announced the change in policy via Twitter, along with reopening news that professional sports teams’ training camps and “even competition” in the Garden State could resume.

“TO THE CLASS OF 2020: Beginning July 6th, schools WILL have the opportunity to hold outdoor graduation ceremonies that comply with social distancing – ensuring the health and safety of all in attendance,” he said.

“We want them to celebrate and to be celebrated by their families, friends and the educators who helped them get there,” Murphy said during his Tuesday COVID-19 update.

Graduating classes that are too big to handle the whole Class of 2020 while maintaining social distance may be split up into multiple ceremonies.

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

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The news comes just days after Murphy signed an executive order increasing the number of people allowed at outdoor gatherings from 10 to 25, but again with strict social distancing guidelines still in place.

MORE: CBS2 Celebrating The Senior Class

All of it came as a pleasant to surprise to many Glen Ridge High School students.

“Just having to do it online would have sucked so much, like not being able see any of my friends ever again. Now, I’ll be able to see them all,” senior Jack Galbraith told CBS2’s Cory James.

For months, high school graduates like Ashley Tirone, who attends North Warren Regional High School, have wondered if the congratulatory lawn signs and banners up around town would be the extent of the celebrations.

“I just want to at least walk that stage in a cap and gown,” Ashley said. “I would’ve felt like there’s just a page missing from the book, and it’s just not complete.”

“Knowing that she’s missing out on all of this, it’s heartbreaking,” Ashley’s mom, Lisa Tirone, said.

Watch Jessica Layton’s report

“I’m just so thankful that somebody finally made a decision to do the live graduation because it was just very frustrating to say no when so many other things are open right now,” mother Lauren Whitmore told CBS2’s Jessica Layton.

“I’m gonna be telling my kids this story,” senior Alex Whitmore said.

After the Fourth of July holiday is later than some would’ve liked. But the news was widely welcomed in Cranford, where the district sent out a survey getting family’s input on virtual options.

It made a cap and gown photography session even more meaningful for senior Carly Bush.

“A lot of us haven’t seen each other since the time that we’ve gone out of school, so I mean, seeing each other before we get to leave for college is really good,” she said.

Francesca Fierro said she’s a bit hesitant, adding she wants to wear her cap and gown but has some concerns.

“Wanting to graduate obviously is exciting, but we have to ask ourselves at what risk?” Fierro said.

But parents expect it to be as safe as it will be special.

“On the football field, they can very easily stand six feet apart. Have the diplomas, even if they were all laid out on a table for them … that would mean the world,” Tirone said.

Bringing back graduations is also good news for the local economy. Nancy Bartlet is getting her business ready for a season that keeps her busy. Each year for graduation she get over 100 orders for floral arrangements and presentation bouquets. She told CBS2 having those customers come back gives her some financial relief during the pandemic.

“Oh, absolutely. No florist survives without an event,” Bartlet said. “That’s a crucial part of the business.”

Districts will start announcing their specific graduation plans after they get guidance from the state, which is expected to come out on Wednesday.

Pro Sports’ Return On The Horizon?

Murphy also put out a tweet announcing a relaxing of restrictions for pro sports teams.

“Professional sports teams in NJ may return to training and even competition – if their leagues choose to move in that direction. We have been in constant discussions with teams about necessary protocols to protect the health and safety of players, coaches, and personnel,” he said.

The New Jersey order would not apply to youth leagues or other non-professional sports gatherings, said Murphy.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Sunday that all professional sports leagues can begin in-state training camps. “I believe that sports that can come back without having people in the stadium, without having people in the arena, do it,” Cuomo said.

Last week Murphy said the new directive on outdoor gatherings would not include dining or graduations.


Just before the Memorial day weekend, Murphy said his reasons for the new rules had to do with the continued decline in key coronavirus hospitalization data. He said the number of new hospitalizations, patients in the hospital, patients in the Intensive Care Unit, and patients on ventilators due to COVID-19 have dropped “dramatically.”

The governor said New Jersey continues to be at or near the top of the list in metrics nationally, including new cases per 100,000 residents (13), patients in the hospital per 100,000 residents (38), and new deaths per 100,000 residents (1.3), but added those numbers are slowly decreasing and that the public needs to continue to behave “responsibly and deliberately.”


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