UH Manoa graduation ceremonies will provide “handshake option”

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Posted: May 15, 2009

The following message was e-mailed today to UH Mānoa students, faculty and staff:

In recent days, I‘ve heard from many of you about shaking hands at graduation and there definitely are views on both sides of that issue. Uppermost in my mind is ensuring that our university promotes best practices for maintaining everyone‘s health, along with educating people about those practices. That is important at all times, but especially in view of the new H1N1 influenza virus currently circulating in Hawaiʻi.

I also recognize that this is a joyous occasion for our graduates and that congratulatory handshakes are part of the celebrations. For those graduates who feel comfortable doing so, we welcome you to celebrate your achievements with the traditional handshake. For those who remain uncomfortable with shaking hands, we certainly respect that choice, because our graduates need to make their own decision.

To respect differing views on this issue and also follow best practices, we have developed a plan so that we can enjoy the traditional handshake - if the graduate feels comfortable doing so. At our ceremonies, we will provide an individual hand-sanitizer packet on each seat for the graduates, as well as hand-wash stations in the arena. So, after our handshake and upon returning to their seats, the graduate can use that hand-sanitizer to clean their hands. In that way, we can accomplish both best practices and the pleasure of our traditional handshake.

As a virologist who spent many years working on influenza viruses, I have a healthy respect for the problems influenza viruses, as well as many others, can cause and for the practices related to preventing their spread. Many "flu" people, like myself, recognize that touching common surfaces that have virus on them represents an important way of spreading such viruses — whether that is a desk, a doorknob, or a hand. As a university official who has participated in well over 100 joyous graduations, I recognize that, since I shake hands with thousands of people on those days, anything on my hands could potentially be transferred to other people through a handshake. That becomes an even greater concern when there is a health problem in the community.

To protect others, my practice is to wash my hands frequently and thoroughly, certainly before and after ceremonies. To protect myself, I am also careful not to touch my eyes, mouth or nose until I wash my hands. We encourage you to follow those same practices at this and other gatherings to reduce your chance of illness and ensure that this truly remains an enjoyable day of celebration for you, our graduates, and your loved ones.

Graduates, congratulations on your achievement. I look forward to greeting you and your loved ones on this very special day.


Virginia S. Hinshaw, Chancellor