UF’s Spring 2021 graduation ceremony will be held in person at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center with 20% capacity, social distancing and mandatory masking.
The university announced plans Friday to have 14 in-person ceremonies at the O’Connell Center between April 29 and May 3, with the same safety protocols used for athletic events at the arena. Make up in-person recognition ceremonies for 2020 graduates are still being planned.
Students who wish to partake in the Spring commencement ceremonies must register by March 31 on their One.UF accounts. Those who previously signed up must re-register due to the increase in ceremonies.
The commencement ceremonies will require tickets for people to attend. Graduates who register between Feb. 19 and March 31 will receive two guest tickets, according to the announcement. Each graduate’s set of tickets will be seated as a pair. There will be no extra tickets available for any ceremony.
Attendees will be required to physically distance and wear masks.
UF will open Ben Hill Griffin Stadium for family and friends who cannot attend the events at the O’Connell Center to view each ceremony live on the big screen. The maximum number of people allowed in the stadium will be about 17,000, and masks will be required.
Each ceremony will also be livestreamed for people at home who are unable to attend the in-person events, according to the announcement.
The ceremonies will be the first in-person commencement since December 2019, as the COVID-19 pandemic pushed all 2020 graduations online. In the Fall, the University Athletic Association opened limited in-person attendance at Gators football games, drawing some criticism from recent graduates who were forced to have virtual graduation.
One factor that has helped make in-person graduation possible is COVID-19 data showing a decline in cases. UF is now using less than 3% of its quarantine space. With few exceptions, UF President Kent Fuchs said there has been a universal decline in the positivity rate for COVID-19.
Normally, each ceremony has about 1,000 students and 10,000 guests. However, this Spring, Fuchs said the total occupancy will be about 2,000 students and guests, or about 20% of the usual total and limiting the number of guests per candidate to two. At that rate, about 584 students will partake in each commencement ceremony, and there will be fewer staff and volunteers working each one, according to the announcement.
In traditional Spring commencement, Fuchs said UF has a high participation rate with an average of about 8,500 students attending ceremonies out of about 10,000 receiving degrees.
“We have to do something more than we’ve done in the past,” Fuchs said during a Senate Faculty meeting Thursday. “We work hard at creating a rich virtual experience. All the colleges have participated in this, and those have been marvelous. But this is the one area where there’s a dramatic difference between in-person commencement graduation ceremonies and virtual.”
Fuchs said while he may not attend a few professional degree programs, he plans to attend and be part of the 14 ceremonies scheduled from April 29 to May 3.
Because of the limited capacity, three ceremonies will be held each day, and the O’Connell Center will be sanitized in between each event, according to the announcement. Hand sanitizer stations will be available on-site.
Besides fewer graduates at the ceremony, there will be no processional, nor recessional, which involves formally entering and exiting the ceremony. There also will be no platform party, and college deans will not be shaking hands with students, according to the announcement. Doctoral students will wear their hoods, which are usually placed on them as part of the ceremony, throughout the event. Every graduating student present will be individually recognized as they walk across the stage.
UF Student Government plans to hold various events in the week prior to its Senior Send Off. The festivities will be across campus to ensure physical distancing, according to the announcement. Participants will be required to wear masks during the events as well.
UF will work with the City of Gainesville, the Greater Gainesville Chamber of Commerce and the Alachua County Hospitality Council to encourage social distancing, masking and sanitizing at hotels and restaurants.
“We may be on the cusp of making real progress against this incredible virus,” Fuchs said. “So, I’m encouraged.”
Contact J.P. Oprison at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JOprison.
J.P. is a third year UF journalism student. He is currently a university news assistant for The Alligator.