By WILL HACKETT
UMW announced on Wednesday, March 24 that there will be in-person Commencement ceremonies for the class of 2020 on May 6 and 7 and the class of 2021 on May 8 and 9. The ceremonies will be held on the recreation fields between Route One and the Alvey parking deck, which will allow up to 875 people to gather safely at each ceremony, and all graduating seniors are allowed four guests.
For several months, UMW has been concerned that they would not be able to hold in-person graduation ceremonies for the second year in a row. However, Governor Ralph Northam made significant changes in the COVID-19 protocols that universities must follow in order to host a graduation.
Virginia’s new commencement guidelines have maximum indoor and outdoor capacities of 500 and 5,000 people, respectively, with strict social distancing requirements of 10 feet between parties.
Seniors received an email from Nina Mikhalevsky, who is the provost at UMW, announcing the plans for graduation.
“Like much of the last year, this will be a different kind of graduation event involving a new format with multiple ceremonies, limitations on the number of individuals in attendance, a venue different from Ball Circle and strict health and safety protocols,” said Mikhalevsky in the email. “However, it will have all of the pomp and circumstance, some new unique features and many of our time-honored traditions.”
In years past commencement has been held on Ball Circle, but this year that will not be possible due to space restrictions.
“I was disappointed that I will not be graduating on Ball Circle but am happy that we are being given the chance to graduate in person at all,” said Jack Brewster, a senior economics major.
Each graduate is allowed to have four guests in attendance who will be seated 10 feet apart from other groups. These guests will be given a non-transferable ticket. Due to the spacing of these groups, there will be multiple ceremonies over the course of two days with up to 150 graduates at each ceremony.
“My biggest excitement is being able to graduate in front of my mom and siblings. I am the first sibling to graduate college and can’t wait for them to be in attendance,” said Brewster.
In order to determine the number of ceremonies for each day, seniors have to fill out a form to indicate whether or not they plan to attend the in-person commencement. Participating in graduation is optional and some students are planning not to attend. This form needs to be filled out by no later than 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, March 30. A schedule will then be made over the course of the two days with the health and safety protocols in mind.
“I was excited to receive the news about in-person graduation. It is something that I have been looking forward to these past four years at UMW,” said Jamin Lane, a senior communication and digital studies major.
The commencement schedule and sign-up information will be shared the week of April 5. The commencement team, which is led by Nina Mikhalevsky along with other students and faculty members, will reach out again to the class of 2021 with further details on each graduate’s preferred ceremony date and times. In order to participate in the ceremony, graduates must purchase and wear regalia, which can be purchased from the University Bookstore.
Not all students are satisfied with the graduation options.
“When I think about graduation I think about being with my friends, I do understand we are still in a pandemic; however being a part of a sports team I feel like the university should plan an athletics commencement. We have all dedicated a lot of time to UMW and we deserve to walk across the stage with our teammates,” said senior Brandon Williams, an economics major.
The announcement of in-person graduation has excited many students and their families, but not everyone is planning to attend. A survey that was presented on the University of Mary Washington Class of 2021 Facebook page shows 95 people attending graduation and 13 people not attending.