Saturday, May 02, 2009

Flu fears impact college graduation on many campuses

Northeastern University in Boston dropped the traditional handshake for graduating students accepting diplomas, while Cisco Junior College in Texas cancelled its commencement ceremonies altogether.

Coast to coast, fears of the H1N1 flu strain are altering American campus life in both subtle and dramatic ways after a dozen universities reported probable or confirmed cases of the virus that has killed up to 176 people in Mexico and one in the United States.

School officials say there is good reason for their concern -- from the hectic travel schedules of academics who could transport the swine flu virus, to the ever-present risk in densely populated residence halls of flu spreading like wildfire.

Many schools such as Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, Western Illinois University and Tulane University in New Orleans suspended study-abroad programs in Mexico. Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania will hold a separate graduation for students returning from Mexico.

In Boston, when about 20,000 people gathered on Friday for Northeastern's graduation events, the school did not take any chances. About 100 bottles of hand sanitizer were available to the crowd and the officials handing out diplomas were not shaking hands -- a traditional graduation gesture.

Northeastern officials said that they took their cue from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Cisco Junior College cancelled a graduation ceremony scheduled for Friday and instead plans to mail diplomas to graduates.

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