In-person commencement planned for class of 2021

An email sent to seniors on Tuesday confirmed graduation would happen in-person in May


Traditionally, degrees are conferred all at once to graduates on Hearn Plaza. This year, there will be multiple graduation ceremonies for different small groups at outdoor sports stadiums such as Truist Field.

Julia Ochsenhirt, Assistant News Editor

Wake Forest University will hold commencement for the Class of 2021 in person this spring, according to an email sent by President Nathan Hatch to members of the senior class.

Commencement ceremonies will take place on May 16 and 17. The university will hold multiple small ceremonies at outdoor Wake Forest athletic venues, including Truist Field. In normal years, all degrees are conferred in one ceremony hosted on Hearn Plaza.

“We know this represents a significant change from the look and feel of our traditional commencement on Hearn Plaza,” Hatch wrote in the email to the Class of 2021, “but we are confident we will create a memorable and meaningful experience.”

Alongside formal ceremonies, the university will host a “large, celebratory event” on May 16. Hatch wrote that while the event will not be “traditional,” it will be a “high-energy event that you won’t want to miss.” The university anticipates that graduates will be able to invite two guests to the ceremonies and celebrations.

Campus administration is still working out details for commencement. No decisions have been made about speakers or the times and venues of specific events. Details about the ceremonies will be posted on the commencement website as they are confirmed, and students can anticipate an email from President Hatch with more information on March 19.

In the meantime, seniors are getting excited after worrying for months that their graduation might have gone down the same drain as that of last year’s class.

“I appreciate the effort the school is putting into making this work for us and the safety precautions they are taking,” said senior Molly McComb.

The decision to hold the ceremonies in person reflects a decrease in state, local and university COVID-19 cases. Daily cases and deaths in North Carolina have been steadily trending downward since Jan. 11, per The New York Times, and there are just four active cases on campus as of March 17.

Additionally, according to the North Carolina COVID-19 Vaccine Dashboard, 20% of the state population has been at least partially vaccinated for COVID-19. These changes have prompted the state to begin lifting many coronavirus restrictions, increasing mass gathering sizes and allowing businesses like movie theaters to operate at 30% capacity. While trends look promising, public campus administrators will re-evaluate plans for commencement if health conditions worsen or the state re-imposes additional restrictions.

There remains some COVID-19-related anxiety, however.

“I am still concerned about the high risk of COVID-19 if most of the population in attendance isn’t vaccinated,” McComb said.

This year’s commencement will look very different from the ceremony for the class of 2020, which was held virtually. That live stream featured a video compilation of celebrities Tina Fey, Carson Daly, Jon Stewart, Tracy Morgan, Jimmy Kimmel and Chris Paul congratulating the graduates, as well as speeches from President Hatch and then-student body president Mellie Mesfin. Drone shots of campus, Wake Downtown and “2020” spray-painted on Hearn Plaza rounded out the ceremony.

Since deciding that last year’s commencement would be virtual, campus administration has planned to celebrate the class of 2020 in person as soon as conditions allow. Administrators are considering two options: an outdoor ceremony on May 22 or a “special homecoming celebration” during the upcoming fall semester. Members of the Class of 2020 can voice their preferences through a survey on the commencement website.

While commencement will look different this year, administrators are excited to safely honor the class of 2021.

“We’ve been working all year, and we’re excited about the opportunity for graduates to celebrate together in person and to have family present and applauding their accomplishments,” wrote Director of University Events Shannon Dubuisson in an email.

“I am grateful that we can mark this milestone together,” Hatch wrote in the email to the class of 2021, “and I look forward to honoring [the students’] achievements.”

More information on commencement will come out Friday.