Resources for Graduation Event Professionals

COVID-19 and Commencement

(March 27, 2020)

Over the course of the last several weeks, thousands of universities and colleges across the country have had the unprecedented challenge of responding to the ever changing situation with the COVID-19 pandemic.  In addition to the unsettled atmosphere in the community, students are also having to adjust to the disruption of their academic endeavors while administrators work tirelessly to provide as much continuity as possible.  Invariably, one of the topics that has been difficult to handle is what to do about commencement. 

At GradImages, we have always prided ourselves on being a resource on all things commencement and have seen some amazing ideas on to how to recognize and celebrate the most important achievement of a student’s college career.  We have seen over 400,000 signatures on various petitions for the preservation of in-person commencement events. 

Everyone knows commencement is important to graduates and their families and the support around maintaining these events is remarkable.  The biggest question is obviously how to delicately balance the safety of the community while preserving the significant importance of fulfilling a defining moment for the graduates.  We have sited some of the more popular responses from institutions to share with you in the hopes it may spark an idea that works for your school.


Students invariably want to have a voice in what happens to them and with online surveys available, it is very easy to get feedback quickly.

  • UC Berkeley has distributed a survey to students asking them to state whether they’d prefer an in-person ceremony at a later date or a virtual ceremony on the original Spring commencement date.
  • Louisiana State University is requesting students to complete a survey to gather insight on when they would prefer to participate in an in-person recognition ceremony
  • The University of Arizona issued a survey to seek prospective graduates input, and invites all Spring 2020 graduates to participate in December 2020 or Spring 2021 commencements.
  • Rutgers University – Camden is requesting graduates to email “questions or suggestions about how Rutgers University–Camden might best celebrate graduation this year”; additionally, they are planning a virtual commencement in May and plan to hold in-person ceremonies on a later date.
  • Ball State University has prepared a survey for a wide audience, seeking their feedback on the best strategy for celebrating the Spring 2020 graduates.


Numerous universities who had initially canceled their Spring ceremonies due to health concerns have revisited their initial plans, respectfully answering the petitions of their student bodies, such as Coastal Carolina University, the University of California – Irvine and the University of Michigan. We applaud the leadership at these institutions for recognizing the voices of their constituents and taking prompt action to recognize their requests.



 Virtual commencements have become a popular option for many universities.  Typically, the schools are recording commencement addresses from faculty and then conferring diplomas in an online video.  Some schools have added graduates names or images in a slideshow format to try to offer live, individual recognition. While this is certainly a great short-term option, most schools recognize the importance of a live recognition event.

  • Florida International University will be hosting virtual commencements and inviting Spring 2020 graduates to participate in their August 2020/December 2020 commencements with specific ceremonies dedicated to those Spring 2020 graduates. Their President, Dr. Mark B Rosenberg, is exploring the option of having a day where graduates can come poses for photos with him.
  • Washington State Universities are presenting Spring graduates with two options: to participate in a later in-person ceremony held for each campus, or participate in a virtual ceremony this May.
  • The University of Wisconsin will host a virtual commencement and is collaborating with officers of the Class of 2020 to plan an in-person recognition ceremony as well.
  • Rowan University will be holding a virtual commencement this Spring and plans to hold in-person recognition events in late summer.


COVID3The safest choice for many institutions has been to reschedule commencement for Spring 2020 graduates or to include them in scheduled future ceremonies and events.

  • Many schools have rescheduled commencement in August including Wentworth Institute of Technology, Fisher University, and Anna Maria College.
  • Grambling State University has cancelled their Spring commencements, but invites students to participate in a future commencement ceremony.
  • Vanderbilt University will hold a “specially designated ceremony” in May 2021 in conjunction with next year’s spring commencement events.
  • Embry Riddle Aeronautical University – Prescott has chosen to host their campus commencement in conjunction with their Homecoming Celebration in October. Additionally, graduates are invited to attend all other commencements scheduled through December.
  • Webster University plans to hold a virtual commencement this May and will hold individual school and college recognition events during its Homecoming and Alumni Weekend in September, and Graceland University has announced plans to hold commencement over their Homecoming Weekend in October.
  • The University of South Carolina intends to postpone commencement to early August, “just before students are scheduled to return for the fall semester.”
  • Grinnell College features a particularly unique circumstance, as the commencement exercises for their 1970 class were also cancelled due to student demonstrations with regards to the Vietnam War, as well as the tragic events that transpired at Kent State University earlier that year. Accordingly, they’re looking to try and host an exceptional event for these two classes, separated by a half-century – what would mark a truly remarkable and memorable event.

We hope that sharing these insights helps you to determine the best course of action for your University and community. We will continue to hope for the improved health and wellness of your students, administrators and the global community at large as we seek to overcome this pandemic.

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