University graduation ceremonies are going virtual during the pandemic

Purdue University and several other colleges are moving their ceremonies to virtual formats during a time when large gatherings have become verboten.
graduating student
(Andre Hunter / Unsplash)

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Purdue University announced Thursday that its spring 2020 graduation ceremony will be held virtually.

Thousands of people typically descend on college campuses for graduation, but with even small gatherings prohibited in many states, Purdue and other colleges are working to preserve these large year-end celebrations by moving them online.

“Students will still receive their own diploma, each name will be called individually, and participants will hear from our excellent student musicians and speakers,” Purdue President Mitch Daniels said in a statement to graduates and their families. “It’s a huge disappointment to us all that we can’t do this in person, but with input from a creative group of graduating seniors, we will do the best we can to preserve the essence of this special occasion.”

Diplomas, diploma covers, commencement programs and honor cords will be mailed to students in time for the launch of the virtual ceremony on May 15, according to the university. Students will also receive information on how to download and view their ceremony, which can be watched at any time.


The university also says students will still be able to purchase or rent a caps and gowns and have them shipped to their homes for free, while a series of filters and virtual photo backgrounds of popular locations around Purdue’s campus will be available for graduation photos as well.

“We are still gathering ideas, and we’ll have even more details to share soon. In the meantime, we want you to know how important this is to us, how deeply we share in your disappointment that the usual ceremony can’t go on as planned and how hard we’re working to create a meaningful, memorable experience,” Purdue registrar Keith Gehres said in the announcement.

Other institutions holding virtual ceremonies include the University of Nevada, Johns Hopkins University, Virginia Tech, West Virginia University, Delaware State University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Texas Austin. Although universities have said these decisions have been made to keep students and their families safe, many students are upset about the decision to cancel such an important event.

The University of California Los Angeles last week announced it would hold “an engaging virtual ceremony” for 2020 graduates, but received immediate backlash from students who are asking instead that the ceremony be postponed until it can take place in-person. UCLA student Tara Ostad collected more than 10,000 signatures in support of a postponed graduation.

“We are a brilliant class of first-gens, transfer students, future doctors, lawyers, politicians, teachers, scientists, and more. We did not work this hard to have an online graduation,” Ostad wrote. “I know this sucks, but we can wait.”


UCLA chancellor Gene Block announced on March 19 the university would reconsider its decision to hold an online graduation and apologized on Twitter to students affected by the decision.

“We’ve heard your voices and will step back and make a decision on commencement in consultation with students,” Block wrote. “We’re guided by safety, but should have known this decision would hit hard, and listened first. For that, I am sorry. We’ll endeavor to do better.”

The university said it will begin working with student leadership on a new plan for the celebration.

Betsy Foresman

Written by Betsy Foresman

Betsy Foresman was an education reporter for EdScoop from 2018 through early 2021, where she wrote about the virtues and challenges of innovative technology solutions used in higher education and K-12 spaces. Foresman also covered local government IT for StateScoop, on occasion. Foresman graduated from Texas Christian University in 2018 — go Frogs! — with a BA in journalism and psychology. During her senior year, she worked as an intern at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., and moved back to the capital after completing her degree because, like Shrek, she feels most at home in the swamp. Foresman previously worked at Scoop News Group as an editorial fellow.

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