University President Jim Ryan announced Friday that the University is planning to hold Final Exercises in person this May thanks to new guidance on in-person graduation ceremonies announced by Gov. Ralph Northam in mid-March.
The new guidelines characterize graduation events as “ceremonies,” which permits outdoor events to have up to 5,000 people or 30 percent of venue capacity — whichever is lower — while indoor graduation events are capped at 500 people or 30 percent of the venue capacity. Previously, graduation events were characterized as gatherings, meaning that outdoor events had to follow the state’s current 100-person gathering limit while indoor events were restricted to 50 individuals.
“I hope that these plans for in-person graduation activities come as welcome news to you and your families,” Ryan said. “It has been a challenging year, and I am looking forward to the chance to formally recognize — and rightfully celebrate — all you have accomplished. In partnership with each school, we will do our best to make the events meaningful and memorable.”
Every graduating student will have the opportunity to walk down the Lawn then proceed to Scott Stadium, where an in-person ceremony will take place. The Scott Stadium ceremonies will be the only in-person graduation ceremonies offered, contrasting with previous years when individual schools and departments held their own ceremonies at locations across Grounds to recognize individual graduates.
Students are allowed to bring two guests. Guests will not be able to watch the procession from the Lawn to Scott Stadium, though the procession will be aired live over the stadium’s jumbotron. Guests and graduates will be expected to follow COVID-19 protocols and will be required to wear a mask during the ceremony at all times and stay home if sick or symptomatic. Guests and graduates are encouraged to obtain a negative COVID-19 test result prior to arriving in Charlottesville.
To ensure adherence with capacity limits, five Final Exercises ceremonies will be held from May 21 to May 23 for the Class of 2021, grouped by individual schools.
The Class of 2020 will also be given a chance to walk the Lawn and attend a “special ceremony” in May, Ryan said. According to the Office of Major Events’ website, a ceremony for the Class of 2020 will be held in Scott Stadium May 16, though — depending on the response — the University may have to hold a second ceremony to ensure that it adheres to the Commonwealth’s capacity limits.
When Final Exercises were postponed for the Class of 2020 last year, it was the first time the tradition did not take place as scheduled since its inception in 1829. The ceremony for the Class of 2020 was originally rescheduled for October 2020 but was then delayed to May 2021. On March 3, the University postponed the ceremony yet again — this time until May 2022.
The University previously canceled Final Exercises as planned for the Class of 2021 on March 3, but Ryan announced in a tweet March 17 that plans would be revised due to Governor Northam’s relaxed COVID-19 restrictions relating to graduation ceremonies.
After the announcement of potential modifications to Final Exercises, some fourth years expressed optimism about the possibility of having an in-person graduation.