After a year of virtual graduation ceremonies spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, students at some University of Wisconsin System campuses will be able to receive their diplomas in person this spring. While festivities will be mostly virtual, a growing number of universities are working on plans to allow students to walk across the stage.
UW-Stout is finalizing plans to have as many as 950 students participate in a series of graduation ceremonies this May. While families and friends will have to watch the events virtually, the university intends to allow groups of around 180 students attend in person and walk across a stage in the campus field house to get their diplomas.
"It's important for them to be able to have that experience of walking across the stage and be recognized," said Commencement Director Britta Miller. "It's important for our families to be able to watch them do it. I know that this isn't the ideal situation, but it's getting closer to as normal as we possibly can."
Students will have to provide evidence that they tested negative for COVID-19 prior to the ceremony. Miller said initial plans include having the chancellor, a provost and a name reader on stage. She said the hope is that they'll have been vaccinated before the May 8 event. The deadline for students to register for the graduation ceremony is March 26.
Last year, all system campuses held spring and winter graduation ceremonies online, leaving some students disappointed that they couldn't celebrate the end of their collegiate careers with families and friends.
This spring, UW-Eau Claire and UW-Green Bay are also planning for an in-person component for upcoming graduation ceremonies. UW-Madison communications staff told WPR an announcement regarding commencement would be made in the near future.
UW-Eau Claire commencement coordinator Corrynn Mahnke said early planning includes conferring degrees outdoors if students choose.
"And if students are uncomfortable coming in person to receive their diploma cover, we will absolutely offer them a virtual option as well," said Mahnke. "I know that there are students who, for whatever reason, can't make it to campus."
In a March 5 video announcement to campus, UW-Green Bay Provost Corey King said each graduating senior will get one-on-one time with Chancellor Michael Alexander.
King told WPR graduates will be allowed to fill up to two cars with family and friends for a drive-thru commencement. He said groups of faculty and administrators will cheer grads as they move through the campus.
"So, the graduate will be the only person who will be allowed at that point to kind of exit their vehicle, to go through that process of interacting with the chancellor in a social distance type setting," said King.
He said many UW-Green Bay students are first-generation, so allowing for some in-person experience during commencement is all the more important.
"So, for many of them, this will be the first time in their family that somebody is graduating from college," said King. "We also have great relationships with First Nations and other important organizations and entities in terms of our inclusivity. And so it's also for those cultures and those different journeys that to celebrate graduation is very meaningful and very personalized."