University President Jim Ryan notified graduating students that Final Exercises will not be held as usual this May in an email to the Class of 2021 Wednesday. Ryan said the decision was made based on the size of gatherings permitted by the Commonwealth of Virginia as well as travel advisories. In a separate statement, Ryan also announced the postponement of Final Exercises for the Class of 2020 until the summer of 2022.
“I regret having to deliver this news, which I know comes as a disappointment, though perhaps not a surprise,” Ryan said. “I know this is not the way you expected to end your time at U.Va., nor is it the way we would like to celebrate your accomplishments. Still, I remain confident we will be able to celebrate and honor your class in a way that will be both meaningful and memorable.”
In a normal year, Final Exercises brings together tens of thousands of parents, guests and faculty members to watch the graduating class walk down the Lawn. Schools and departments also host separate graduation ceremonies across Grounds to celebrate graduates individually. Last spring, the University held a virtual degree conferral for the Class of 2020 that featured surprise performances from renowned musicians Yo-Yo Ma and Dave Matthews.
The Commonwealth of Virginia currently permits outdoor gatherings of up to 25 people and indoor gatherings of up to 10 people.
Final Exercises for the Class of 2021 were originally rescheduled for the weekend of May 21-23, 2021 while those for the Class of 2020 were planned for May 28-30, 2021.
In a separate announcement, Ryan told the Class of 2020 that their 2022 ceremony will “combine elements of Final Exercises and an early reunion,” and will provide an opportunity to walk the Lawn for those who want to do so.
This marks the second time that graduation activities for the Class of 2020 have been postponed — Final Exercises for the Class of 2020 were originally scheduled for May 16 and 17, 2020 before being canceled last March following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The cancelation of Final Exercises last year marked the first time they had been canceled since the tradition began in 1829.
Instead of the traditional graduation ceremony for the Class of 2021, Ryan said the University is considering two alternatives — holding modified graduation events this spring that only involve graduating students, meaning no guests, or postponing graduation events to a future date when families can attend as well as students.
Regardless of either alternative’s adoption, degrees will be conferred and there will be a “celebratory virtual event” for students, friends and family, Ryan said.
The Finals 2021 Advisory Committee, which is composed of students, faculty and administrators, plans to survey graduating students to inform decisions on what the graduation ceremony will look like. In any case, guests will not be allowed at any in-person event. Ryan said that the University will update the Class of 2021 as plans for Final Exercises are developed.