These 13 colleges, universities have commencement plans in place

Some have in-person events scheduled while others have decided to go virtual. Will those change? A lot will depend on COVID-19.
By: | February 8, 2021
Photo courtesy of Kean University

Kean University in New Jersey was matter of fact about its plans for 2021 spring commencement ceremonies: They will be live and held at its outdoor Alumni Stadium, just as there were last July.

While other colleges and universities either postpone decisions on whether their big graduation events will be held in person or remotely, Kean is taking the less-guarded approach.

President Lamont Repollet said the university will host a series of commencements for all graduates from May 12-16. Families will be invited, though tickets could be limited depending on public health guidance. The event will be livestreamed for those who cannot attend. That formula seemed to work just after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic when Kean held seven separate ceremonies with limited guests socially distanced in the stands.

“Graduation is a huge milestone for any college student but particularly for the many at Kean who are the first in their families to go to college,” Repollet said. “Our team is working hard to prepare ceremonies that are both memorable and safe as we continue to navigate the pandemic. Last year’s outdoor ceremonies were an unqualified success, and we are confident that this year’s graduating students will also feel celebrated.”

The university said it would adhere to all COVID-19 protocols including facemasks for all attendees and proper distancing both on the field and in the seats.

Like Kean, Purdue University announced back in December that it would host its commencement ceremonies in person on May 15. President Mitch Daniels told the Purdue News Service that last year’s three virtual ceremonies weren’t “the same as celebrating this important milestone in person.”

So, Purdue will have its undergrads and professional candidates walk across the stage at Ross-Ade Stadium, not Elliott Hall of Music, and like Kean will have an allotment of tickets for each of those graduating. Its Graduate School doctoral students will have a live ceremony at Elliott Hall the following day.

Ivy League schools Brown University and Dartmouth College are also planning for live commencements, but they won’t include families or guests because of health conditions, travel restrictions and a lack of vaccines. Dartmouth has pushed its ceremony to June, while Brown is planning May 1 and 2 events. Both postponed or canceled Class of 2020 scheduled graduations.

Bowdoin College in Maine and Williams College in Massachusetts also plan to hold graduations in person with no guests, who must watch them livestreamed.

“We know this is disappointing news, and as parents we recognize how difficult it is not to be able to attend your own student’s graduation,” Williams President Maud Mandel and Dean Marlene Sandstrom wrote to students and families.

Bowdoin President Clayton Rose wrote to parents: “This is not a decision any of us wanted to make, especially because you and your families have already sacrificed and endured so much,”

Many colleges up in the air

The University of Florida still hasn’t determined whether it will be able to host graduation ceremonies for its Class of 2021 and last year’s graduating class at its on-campus Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (better known as The Swamp). According to a report in its student newspaper, vaccine availability will be the benchmark UF uses in making its decision. For now, the events are scheduled for April 28-May 3 and a final call won’t be made until March.

Unlike Kean, which is just 45 miles up the road, Princeton University too has not made a final determination on its commencement.

New Jersey this week has the ninth highest total of COVID-19 positive cases per 100,000 in the United States (53.7), according to data from the Centers for Disease Control. Many institutions that are planning to go live are watching the numbers in their states, too.

Texas is one of them. The state is No. 1 in the U.S. for cases per 100,000 at 71.7. Although the University of Texas has its commencement ceremony slated for May 22 at Darrell Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, Interim Executive Vice President and Provost Daniel Jaffe said he is poised to switch it to a virtual event if it cannot do so safely, according to KVUE-TV.

Another state where cases are high is New York (7th per 100,000), and Syracuse University too has tentatively booked May 23 after bumping back its date for graduation by two weeks. However, Interim Vice Chancellor and Provost John Liu said it may not happen in person. “No matter the circumstances, whether in-person or virtual, we will celebrate our graduates with all the pomp and circumstance they deserve,” he said in a statement.

They’re just going virtual

Ohio University decided not to wait to make the announcement it would be holding this year’s ceremonies virtually. However, it did leave the door open for them to be held in person if the state public health guidance changes significantly.

Marquette University also hinted that a window might be available for a hybrid event but that too would only come after health experts determined it would be safe to do so. Right now, Marquette’s ceremony will be virtual on May 23.

Springfield College in Massachusetts also has opted against hosting its commencement in person. President Mary-Beth Cooper said in a statement to the community: “We know this is sad news, especially for our graduating students, but we are committed to holding a celebration that will be meaningful for our graduating students and their families.”