HILLSDALE, Mich. (AP) — A politically-connected conservative college in southern Michigan has defied warnings from state and public health officials during the coronavirus pandemic by hosting an in-person graduation ceremony.
Hillsdale College held graduation Saturday evening, capping days of celebrations, according to The Detroit News.
“COVID obviously was a concern,” said David Betz, whose son, Christian, graduated. “For a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be able to come, it was well worth it.”
The college of about 1,500 students had expected more than 2,000 people at the event, which Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel had called illegal with public gatherings capped at 100 people during the pandemic. Health officials had said the event, drawing people to Hillsdale restaurants and hotels, put the community of about 8,000 people at risk.
University officials, who didn’t discuss attendance numbers, said graduation is an important milestone and safety precautions were taken, including wearing masks. The liberal arts college has connections to top Republicans. Vice President Mike Pence gave 2018’s commencement address.
Robert Norton, the college’s vice president and general counsel, said the college complied with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s order and cited constitutional rights. Hillsdale County Sheriff Tim Parker said his office hasn’t enforced Whitmer’s executive orders related to the pandemic.
Michigan has reported more than 73,500 confirmed COVID-19 cases with more than 6,100 deaths. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reported 483 new confirmed cases and two deaths on Sunday.