After a year of waiting, the class of 2020 may finally get its in-person commencement ceremony.
While many factors remain uncertain, the university is making an effort to hold both Spring 2021 commencement and 2020 makeup ceremonies in person at the end of the Spring semester, UF Director of Commencements Stephanie McBride said. Because of COVID-19, UF has held graduation ceremonies virtually since last Spring.
“We’re planning for the unplannable and the unknown, having never gone through a situation where you’re trying to plan for a year’s worth of makeup ceremonies,” McBride said.
Although the venues are reserved, the decision to hold in-person commencement depends on the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, McBride said. The university will decide whether to proceed with its plans for in-person ceremonies by March, so students and their guests can make arrangements, she said. If the vaccine has not been made available to the general public, the events will be further postponed and possibly changed to an alternate format, she wrote.
However, it’s too early to know what measurement of vaccine availability will be used to determine if in-person graduations are possible, McBride wrote in an email. It’s also possible that determining a vaccine threshold will fall onto the State University System, since it was the agency that directed schools to have alternate formats for Fall 2020 commencement.
As of now, Spring 2021 University Wide Commencement will be held in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium from April 28 to May 3. The individual college recognition ceremonies will occur at varying locations, including the Stephen C. O’Connell Center and the Phillips Center for Performing Arts, according to UF’s commencement website.
Class of 2020 makeup ceremonies will take place in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center from May 6-9, and the ceremonies will be organized based on how many people register for the event.
Each college will be assigned to a specific day during the makeup weekend, McBride said. Depending on how many graduates from the colleges register, the ceremonies will be split into no more than three graduations each day, she said. Each ceremony will include no more than 1,000 graduates at a time, McBride said.
The university cannot require attending graduates or guests to be vaccinated, McBride wrote in an email. Instead, the purpose of waiting on accessible vaccines is to give guests a chance to be vaccinated and include high-risk individuals who could not attend otherwise, McBride wrote.
As for what the events themselves will look like, McBride said she is unsure, and that it depends on how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines change.
Other large events at UF have been held before the vaccine had even been developed. The University Athletic Association allowed for limited in-person attendance at Gators football games this season. The lack of public pushback from UF President Kent Fuchs sparked some backlash and criticism from recent graduates. Fans will also be able to watch this season’s basketball games in person at a capacity of 2,200 people.
Terry Derias, a 21-year-old UF nutritional sciences alumna said the prerecorded Fall ceremony felt impersonal.
“I think that when you finish college, you’re closing a really important chapter of your life,” Derias said. “Without a proper graduation, it doesn’t really feel like that chapter ever closes, and things just still kind of feel unfinished.”
Derias, a Fall 2020 graduate, said she will attend the makeup ceremony if it’s safe and if the general public has been vaccinated. For now, Derias plans to attend the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, which will keep her close enough to participate in the makeup.
Derias hopes to gain closure from attending the in-person makeup ceremony, she said.
“I’d be most looking forward to just having my friends and family there with me and recognizing my accomplishments and everything I worked really hard for during college,” Derias said.
Olivia Weippert, a 22-year-old UF health science alumna, graduated in Spring 2020. She is currently attending Dragon Rises College of Oriental Medicine in Gainesville.
Even though Weippert felt disappointed by the postponement of Spring commencement, she does not plan to attend the makeup ceremony, she said.
“I feel like it’s been a year now, and I don’t want to dwell in the fact of just walking across the stage,” Weippert said. “I already have my physical degree, and it’s hanging up all nice and pretty.”
Contact Juliana Ferrie at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @juliana_f616.