Washington and Lee pushes back graduation ceremonies to spring 2021

Undergraduate and law classes of 2020 are scheduled to walk the stage nearly a year after virtual graduation


From left to right: Elizabeth Thompson, ’20, Kathryn Gerbo, ’20, and Elizabeth Underwood, ’20 pose for early graduation photos on the Colonnade. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Underwood.

Hannah Denham

Washington and Lee University’s undergraduate and law classes of 2020 will receive their virtual diplomas in May, but they’ll have to wait nearly a year to walk the stage on the front lawn.

President Will Dudley announced the decision to move in-person commencement ceremonies to spring 2021 in an email to the classes of 2020 on Friday, May 1. 

“Although these celebrations will be belated, we hope that they will be all the more memorable for being so unusual,” Dudley said in the email. “It will be a joyful celebration indeed when you reunite for the first time on campus as alumni, and I look forward to being with you.”

Students will receive their degrees online in a virtual event that will include faculty and staff greetings and student photos. The livestream is scheduled for May 8, 2020 at 10 a.m. for law students and May 28, 2020, at 1 p.m. for seniors. Diplomas will be delivered to students by mail.

The law commencement ceremony is scheduled for Saturday, April 3, 2021, and undergraduate commencement will take place on Sunday, May 23, 2021. Dudley said in the email that weekend dates were selected so that more graduating students and their families could return to Lexington.

A task force of university officials, administrators and students from the undergraduate and law classes of 2020 debated options for rescheduling commencement after the spread of coronavirus across the United States prompted Washington and Lee to move to virtual instruction. Dudley said that Virginia Military Institute and the Lexington Chamber of Commerce were included in discussions to ensure the availability of hotels for the scheduled dates. 

One month earlier, Dudley announced that in-person commencement would be postponed, citing Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s stay-at-home order and guidance from health officials. 

“This is not how any of us envisioned your final year at W&L. It is neither what you want nor what you deserve,” Dudley said in the April 1 email. “As we acknowledge our collective disappointment, let us be inspired by the many examples we see of our students, faculty, and staff pulling together, despite our physical distance, to make the most of the opportunities we do have in these unprecedented times.”