Planning a successful in-person commencement

We are determined to honor our graduates while keeping the campus community safe and healthy.

Planning+a+successful+in-person+commencement

By Letter Contributor

Having worked at the University of Massachusetts Amherst for the past 25 years, there are two events each year that still bring a tear to my eye: move-in weekend and commencement. Working on a college campus is a unique experience and as staff, we draw great satisfaction in welcoming students – both new and returning – to campus and to celebrating the achievements of our graduating seniors.

This year has been different in every way. Move-in lasted a week instead of a weekend, more classes were held remotely than in the classroom, and events moved to virtual platforms. Looking ahead to commencement, our UMass planning team knew that it would look different this year than it did in years past. Working with a student advisory group, we heard loud and clear that our seniors wanted an on-campus ceremony that would give them the opportunity to be together with their classmates one last time and have the chance to say goodbye to this place that has meant so much to them. We are determined to honor their wishes, and to do so in a manner that will keep them and the campus community safe and healthy.

Our planning committee explored many options to celebrate our approximately 6,500 graduates. It was clear from the outset that, even with the McGuirk Alumni Stadium – the largest venue on campus – we would still need to host multiple ceremonies with smaller cohorts of graduates in order to adhere to the state’s COVID-19 public health guidelines for commencements. McGuirk is a large capacity event venue (as defined by the Commonwealth), which means that under State guidelines, the seating capacity for commencement is limited to 12 percent of the stadium’s 17,000 seats. By splitting commencement up into four separate ceremonies over the course of a day, without guests present, we will be near the limit of the stadium’s capacity under this formulation.

As we shared this news with our student advisory committee, we heard support from them for moving forward. While we all knew that this wasn’t the commencement that they had hoped for, they were relieved to hear they would get their in-person ceremony.

We know that commencement isn’t just about our graduates. As both an alumnus and the mother of a first-year student at UMass, I am keenly aware of the importance of commencement for parents and family members. It is the culmination of a long journey for both our students and their families. So that families can share in this special day, all of the graduation ceremonies will be live-streamed, and we are creating additional virtual content to enrich the online experience for those who cannot be there.

Given the public health protocols in place at the stadium and the limited time between ceremonies, we are asking parents and guests who choose to be with their seniors on graduation day to do so at their students’ homes, and not on campus. To ensure that all seniors can get to the stadium in time for their ceremony, we will not be allowing parents and family members to park near the stadium. Instead, we encourage you to take advantage of the many local outdoor dining options or order in from a local restaurant for a backyard celebration.

More information about this year’s Commencement can be found on our website.

To the extended UMass Amherst family, we thank you for your understanding.

Nancy Buffone

Associate Vice Chancellor for University Relations