University unsure in-person commencement ceremonies will proceed

Virginia’s coronavirus guidelines limiting gathering sizes at social gatherings at 25 partially responsible


Diploma frame options displayed in commons for Seniors. Photo by Jackson Jacobs

Vivek Kumar and Grace Mamon

Seniors wonder if they will be able to walk the stage on the colonnade as the coronavirus continues to throw a wrench in plans.

President William Dudley shared W&L’s tentative commencement plan in an email March 10 that includes in-person ceremonies for law graduates and undergraduates on May 7 and May 27, respectively. 

Commencement proceedings are classified as social gatherings which should not exceed 25 people outdoors and 10 people indoors. 

Dudley said that the university is trying to convince state officials of the ceremony’s importance, while making plans for a covid-19 safe ceremony. 

“We are conveying to state officials the importance of this milestone to our graduates and their families, and we are carefully considering a number of options and scenarios — for larger and smaller ceremonies, both with and without guests — to be compliant with the Covid-19 protocols and state restrictions that are in effect this spring,” he said in the email. 

Dudley said regardless of what is decided graduation will be livestreamed for anyone who is unable to attend in person.

A recent display of diplomas, caps and gowns in Commons reminds seniors that graduation is approaching. Photo by Jackson Jacobs, ‘24.

Grace Ann Holliday, ‘21, said she appreciated Dudley keeping students updated on the situation.

“I appreciated President Dudley’s email saying that they are working to convey to the state officials our desire to be able to hold graduation ceremonies,” Holliday said. 

She said she would like to have an in-person ceremony, but understands that safety comes first.

“I’m hopeful that we can find a way to make this work and to get to close our W&L careers together,” Holliday said. “But regardless, I am beyond thankful for the four years that I have had here whether that entails throwing my cap in the air on the colonnade or not.”

One graduating senior said the lack of decision has made creating plans more stressful. 

We’re less than three months away from graduation and my family has to plan their travel from the west coast,” Zach England, ‘21, said. 

England said it was tough because other schools had already made their decisions on graduation.

“I know Davidson College is planning to do it in person and they’re pretty similar to W&L so it’s kind of annoying knowing that other people already have it in the books while we’re just waiting for the word,” England said. 

Carissa Rodriguez, ‘21, agreed.

I was appreciative that the school is making an effort to hold an in-person graduation, but it’s still frustrating to not know what’s going on,” she said.

Rodriguez said she was unsure a ceremony without guests would be able to capture the importance of the milestone.

I’m not sure how I would feel about smaller ceremonies without guests, because it’s something I want to share with my family and closest friends,” Rodriguez said.

But W&L is not facing this problem alone. The University of Virginia said it will not be able to hold commencement proceedings as usual this May in an email to its students. Virginia Tech also said it will not be able to hold in-person graduation proceedings like normal.

Tammi Simpson, dean of seniors, did not answer questions about how the raised COVID-19 environment level is affecting the plans.