Graduating University of Virginia students will get to walk the Lawn in May as school administrators say revisions to state restrictions will allow graduates and two guests to gather for the traditional ceremony.
The school’s Class of 2020 also will get to attend an in-person ceremony after having its graduation events canceled last year in the midst of the pandemic.
Gov. Ralph Northam announced March 18 that he would loosen requirements on elementary, high school and college graduation ceremonies, imposing a 5,000-person cap or 30% of venue capacity, whichever is lower.
That, said UVa President Jim Ryan, will make the graduation ceremonies doable.
“In light of Governor Northam’s revised guidance on graduation ceremonies, I am thrilled to announce that we are now planning to hold in-person Final Exercises this May,” Ryan said in an email to the student body Friday. “All graduating students will have the opportunity to walk the Lawn and process to Scott Stadium for their ceremony. Each graduate will be permitted two guests in Scott Stadium.”
Ryan said the Scott Stadium ceremonies will be the only in-person graduation ceremonies offered.
“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.”
The change is a 180-degree turn from March 3, when Ryan told graduates to expect no in-person ceremonies this year. At that time, with pandemic restrictions still limiting gatherings to about two dozen people, Ryan told students to expect modified graduation events with students only and no guests or a postponement to a future date.
Northam’s decision to ease restrictions especially for graduations changed all that, Ryan said. The governor cited vaccination programs in the state that have given about a quarter of the population at least partial immunity to the virus and more than 1 million Virginians fully vaccinated.
Northam also allowed indoor ceremonies of up to 500 people or 30% of venue capacity, whichever is lower, providing mask mandates, social distancing and other COVID protocols are followed.
The Class of 2020’s graduates get to lead off the events with a ceremony planned for May 16.
“If you’re able to make it to Charlottesville in May, you’ll have the opportunity to walk the Lawn and process to Scott Stadium for a ceremony,” Ryan said in a separate email to the class. “Each graduate will be permitted two guests in Scott Stadium. If you or your guests are not able to attend in person, all events will be livestreamed.”
Officials said that a second ceremony could be scheduled if there is sufficient response from those who graduated last year.
The ceremony will be held rain or shine. In the event of severe weather, the ceremony may be delayed to a later time that day, officials said.
“This new opportunity comes in addition to plans for an early reunion-style social event during the summer of 2022, which will also include an opportunity to walk the Lawn,” Ryan wrote to the 2020 graduates.
For the Class of 2021, tentative scheduling calls for three days of ceremonies beginning Friday, May 21. Ceremonies will be held for groups of schools all three days, with the largest group being graduates of the Arts and Sciences school on May 22.
Two ceremonies are scheduled for each day, with the second ceremony on May 23, and Monday, May 24, set aside for those that were postponed due to weather.
Graduates in Arts and Sciences will be able to select whether they want to attend the morning or afternoon ceremony, officials said.
Valedictory Exercises will be held virtually, officials said.
“Thank you for your patience as this planning has evolved,” Ryan wrote to the Class of 2021. “I wish you a successful and healthy conclusion to your spring semester and your time at UVa.”