Rain or shine, the graduating Class of 2021 should expect an outdoor ceremony for Commencement. Barring any weather that could harm the students or guests, the ceremony will be held in Fisher Stadium on May 30 at 10:30 a.m., Assistant to the President for Board and Community Relations Melissa Starace said.
This year’s event will be Starace’s fourth Commencement ceremony and, and she said that graduates should expect “an incredible day.”
“[Graduates] will be with their friends, they will have guests, we’re keeping our fingers crossed for good weather and if not, grab that poncho and wear some rain boots,” Starace said. “The goal is to have it outdoors to be able to have the graduates and their two guests be able to be part of that experience with them.”
If the event is moved inside, the indoor capacity guidelines would accommodate just the graduates.
“We would encourage everyone to go back, whether it’s their homes, hotels, cars, to where they need to, to be able to tune in and we would give appropriate time but that’s the last resort,” Starace said.
The class of 2021 can expect to see some old friends, as students who graduated in September 2020 or January 2021 have been invited to return to Lafayette to walk the stage at graduation and have their names in the program, according to the new Dean of Students Brian Samble.
“I am equally excited to celebrate that ceremonial moment with any recent graduates who would like to return and participate,” Samble wrote in an email.
Starace noted that one major difference for this year’s Commencement is that graduates will not be receiving their diplomas on the day of Commencement because classes end the day prior.
“The Registrar’s Office has communicated that [diplomas will not be available on that day] to all of our graduates or those intending to graduate, that they will get that in the mail,” Starace said. “Their degrees will get certified after the ceremony, they will be getting diploma holders and we’re working through that right now.”
Graduates and guests will also be expected to follow CDC and state COVID-19 protocols that are explained in depth on Lafayette’s Commencement website. Everyone present will be expected to wear masks at all times and social distance.
“We’re really hoping that people take everything seriously when it comes to personal safety, taking care of the hand-washing and the mask-wearing, being aware of distancing amongst others,” Starace said. “With the way that we’ve set up what we hope the stadium as well as the experience that it really encourages people to have space amongst themselves or to themselves.”
Due to these guidelines, this year’s graduating class is only allowed two guests per graduate.
“Typically, because of the size of the stadium…[Commencement] was really open to anyone that was able to come,” Starace said. “We focused on the two guests per graduate, and that was to ensure for appropriate protocols being followed and meeting the capacity guidelines that were established.”
The vaccination rate of students and the size of the venue have provided some comfort for the staff and were among the reasons the college feels it can safely host the ceremony, Vice President of Campus Life Annette Diorio explained.
“I think the most difficult part is balancing what we feel like we still need to do to keep the world safe versus what students would like to have for their families. We prioritized having an in-person event and that meant we had to have some restrictions and I think that’s hard for students and their families,” Diorio said. “This is a momentous occasion, it’s a huge event, people want to celebrate it with their whole family, but we still aren’t there as a nation or state.”
Starace added that few students requested extra tickets for guests, but no exceptions were granted to be “fair and equitable to all of our graduates.”
“I think people are just really excited to be able to have an in-person Commencement. Other institutions are going fully virtual, some are having no guests. We did a lot of benchmarking with local institutions as well as within Pennsylvania and some others to see where they were falling and I think we saw it in a good place with the two guests per graduate,” Starace said.
Starace said she is looking forward to hosting an in-person graduation and allowing students and their families to partake in this commemorative occasion despite the unprecedented times.
“To the class of 2021, we are excited to be able to have this experience for you. You’ve been very flexible this year and we just ask you to continue to be flexible as we head into these next few weeks of the semester, enjoy your time at Lafayette, and we’re working to make it the best experience for you,” Starace said. “Trust the process, and we will all be able to celebrate you and your experience at Lafayette together.”
Samble also shared some final words for the graduating class.
“Congratulations! The Class of 2021 is such a talented cohort, in large part marked for how they developed the habits and exercised the grit necessary to push through perhaps the most challenging year of their lifetimes. Leaders are often called upon to lead amid uncertainty; the Class of 2021 has demonstrated they can excel in uncertain circumstances,” Samble wrote. “Communities, employers, and graduate schools welcoming these Pards to join them in what happens next will be well-served.”