Checking In With Chancellor May: Announcing Limited In-Person Commencement Ceremonies

Students wearing grad caps and face coverings.

Checking In With Chancellor May: Announcing Limited In-Person Commencement Ceremonies

To the UC Davis Community:

The culmination of a university experience means so much: personal growth, a broadening of perspectives, practical skills and lifelong bonds. A diploma is perhaps an inadequate means of representing the countless days and nights of hard work spent toward that end, but it is still an incredibly meaningful acknowledgment, and its transference is a joyous occasion.

Among the painful and unfair costs the pandemic has extracted from the world is the inability for many students to mark the end of their academic journeys with a commencement ceremony. Thankfully our university and city community has been incredibly diligent and cautious, and we can now enjoy the benefits of our hard work.

I’m pleased to announce that spring 2021 graduates — undergraduate and academic graduate students — will have the opportunity to participate in a limited-scale, in-person commencement processional. In addition, they will also have the opportunity to participate in a virtual graduation ceremony. Our professional schools are also developing plans to appropriately recognize and celebrate their school’s graduates.

While the current state of COVID-19 infections and spread in our area has improved dramatically, the pandemic is not over and we must still be cautious. Our commencement celebrations will be limited to comply with regulations and to keep our graduates, their families, our faculty and staff, and the broader community safe. Our plans are subject to change based on evolving direction from state and local public health officials, and are predicated on Yolo County moving into the yellow tier. They may need to be revised should the county not be in that tier by June. 

Requirements for guests and grads

Students in grad caps with face coverings.
Graduating students who attend the in-person ceremonies must wear face coverings during the event, although they may remove them temporarily for a photo while on stage. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

Graduates who choose to participate in the in-person processional may each bring two guests. Those guests must bring a completed COVID-19 vaccination card to the event, while students will have the option of showing proof of a completed COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test result for COVID-19 from the previous 72 hours. Any student traveling from outside California must show proof of vaccination. The entire in-person event will also be livestreamed online, so anyone who is unable to attend in person can still witness this important milestone.

Families and participants will be asked to arrive in the Pavilion Parking Structure, and the festivities will begin as soon as everyone is checked in. Graduates and their guests — spaced at least six feet from other graduates and their guests at all times — will make their way through a series of tents with differing themes. First up, a photo-op tent will be filled with fun opportunities for selfies and family photos. Then, each group will proceed to the main stage, where the graduate will receive a ceremonial scroll (without shaking hands) and have their name read aloud in front of a group of campus leaders. A professional photographer will be on hand to document this special moment. All attendees must wear face coverings during the entire event, but may remove them temporarily for a photo while on stage.

Student wears grad cap and face covering.
The in-person events will also be livestreamed online. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

With ceremonial scroll in hand, attendees can briefly celebrate their new alumni status in a tent organized by the Cal Aggie Alumni Association — complete with details on how they can receive a free gift at a later time — before heading back to the parking structure. Coronavirus precautions and regulations on gatherings mean there will be no program or speakers to address the class, and groups will be asked not to linger in the area so that it can be prepared for the next group of graduates.

Multiple ceremonies

Because we must still limit the size of gatherings, several such ceremonies will be held from June 10-13. Each event will be limited to 300 students, and unfortunately these size restrictions mean we are unable to welcome the Class of 2020 back to participate in this ceremony. These difficult decisions have been made in consultation with public health experts, and rest assured a more traditional celebration for 2020 graduates will take place as soon as it is safe to do so.

More details on the logistics of these events and information on how to opt-in to either the in-person or virtual events will be emailed to eligible students early next week, so keep an eye on your inboxes for more information.

In the meantime, I must stress again how proud I am to be part of this amazing university community that has done so much to protect all of its members from this tragic pandemic. So much has happened over the past 13 months, and you all have truly shown a new definition of Aggie Pride in the way you have responded. We must continue to be vigilant and cautious, but I hope these commencement events will provide a small relief and prove that the light at the end of the tunnel is indeed getting brighter. Fiat Lux!


Gary S. May

Campus ready graphic, cow on bicycle

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