UH grads take flu in stride


POSTED: Sunday, May 17, 2009

Genevieve Perrin wore a rubber glove yesterday before shaking hands at a University of Hawaii at Manoa graduation ceremony.

She and several classmates jokingly wore the gloves after UH officials initially eliminated the handshake from the ceremony in favor of a pat on the back to avoid spreading the flu. Officials were concerned about the virus after a case was confirmed in a UH dorm student a week before graduation.

“;I see the fear, but I think it's silly,”; said Perrin, who received a masters in special education. She said she has more of a chance of catching swine flu, or H1N1 influenza, from her pre-school students who regularly sneeze on her.

“;This would be the last place I'd get it,”; she said.

A day before graduation, UH officials reversed their decision and made handshakes optional.

“;For those graduates who feel comfortable doing so, we welcome you to celebrate your achievements with the traditional handshake,”; said UH-Manoa Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw in the news release.

About 800 students received master's and doctor's degrees at the graduate ceremony yesterday. Some opted out of shaking hands, instead using a fist bump or a pat on the back, but most went for the customary shake.

The university provided hand-wash stations in the Stan Sheriff Center and sanitizer packets on each seat for hand-shakers.

“;It was overly pre-cautious, but it was necessary,”; said medical school graduate Chris Costa, 24, who used a sanitary wipe.

When Dave Smetana, 25, received his diploma for a master's in athletic training, he opted for the traditional congratulations.

“;No hesitation, straight up, handshake and off the stage,”; he said.

He supported the university's concerns about swine flu, which has been confirmed in 21 cases in Hawaii and has killed four across the nation.

“;I think they needed to address the issue to calm people down who were worried about it,”; he said. But he was glad they decided to bring back the option for a five-finger grip.

“;That's what graduation's all about—the handshake,”; he said. “;You want to be able to get your degree and shake the hand of whoever's up there.”;