University of Virginia President Jim Ryan has announced plans to celebrate Final Exercises for the Class of 2020 both virtually and later, in person, on the Lawn, after the coronavirus pandemic forced the delay of May’s traditional graduation ceremonies.
In an email to undergraduate and graduate students in the class, Ryan said UVA will hold a virtual ceremony to confer degrees May 16, the original start of two days of Final Exercises.
“This will serve as the official end of the academic year and allow all those who earned their degrees to graduate on time,” he wrote. “We are planning something memorable to mark the occasion and will have more details to share soon.”
Ryan said UVA will hold Final Exercises on the Lawn either this fall or next spring, depending on the state of the spread of the virus.
“We are holding the weekend of Oct. 9-11, 2020, which coincides with fall reading days,” he said in his communication. “Because we do not yet know whether it will be safe to have a large gathering in October, we are also holding May 28-30, 2021, as a backup, which is the weekend after the Class of 2021 will walk the Lawn.”
Ryan said given the continued uncertainty about COVID-19, the University recommends “against making travel plans for October until we know more; we simply wanted you to know now the dates we are holding on our calendars so that you can hold them on yours. We will follow up with more definite information in June.”
Since announcing March 17 that Final Exercises would not proceed as planned, Ryan and other University leaders have been hearing from many people imploring the University to find another date for the graduation ceremonies.
So, the president appointed a special committee of undergraduate and graduate students, as well as faculty and staff, to consider different options for Final Exercises. His announcement reflects the committee’s recommendations.
“The committee has been working hard to make sure we provide students and families as much of a sense of normalcy as possible with a new date, including walking the Lawn and participating in other celebratory events,” said Omar Elhaj, the president of the Fourth Year Trustees and a committee member.
“It was a thorough set of discussions, since there is a myriad of moving parts, including space reservations and the course of the pandemic,” he said. “We were very happy to decide on a couple of potential dates to recommend to the president, and I hope that class members can feel reassured that we have been working to properly celebrate their amazing accomplishments.”
In his note, Ryan said schools and departments plan to hold their own in-person ceremonies and details and possible dates are still being sorted out. “As more details become available, we will post them on the Class of 2020 Final Exercises website,” he said.
“I know how much all of you were looking forward to Final Exercises and how disappointed many of you are that the ceremonies had to be moved,” Ryan wrote. “Graduation isn’t just a chance to walk the Lawn and get your diploma. It’s a time to say goodbye to your friends, to thank your families for the sacrifices they’ve made, to let your professors know how much you appreciate them, to have one more bagel, go on one more hike, and sing ‘The Good Old Song’ one more time. It’s an incredibly special moment – and one every graduate of the University should have a chance to experience.”
Ryan said the University will do everything it can to make these ceremonies a fitting end to students’ time at UVA.
“While every class at UVA is special, yours is truly unique – and this year’s Final Exercises will be, too. I expect it will be one of the most joyful occasions the Lawn has ever seen, and a moment all of us will remember forever,” he said. “I hope to see you there.”