UT announces commencement plans for 2020, 2021 grads amid COVID-19 pandemic

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Photo Credit: Jack Myer | Daily Texan Staff

The class of 2020 now has a date set for the graduation ceremony they expected to have a year and a half ago, but some say they have moved on and don’t plan to attend. 
 
On Jan. 19, President Jay Hartzell announced the University is planning commencement ceremonies for the class of 2020 on Sept. 17 and the class of 2021 on May 22 at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. 
 
Kathleen Harrison, communications manager for the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost, said in an email the class of 2020 ceremony will be for students who would have graduated at any time in 2020 and fall 2019 graduates who were planning to attend the ceremony in May 2020. 

Harrison said the class of 2020 is having its ceremony in September in hopes that more people will be vaccinated and the conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic will have improved. She said the class of 2021 is having its ceremony planned for the original date because UT assumes the graduates are already on campus. 

“Inviting 2020 graduates and their families, from around the world, back to the campus for a mass gathering is counter to the safety goal of minimizing density on campus,” Harrison said. “As more people become vaccinated in the coming months, the hope is that conditions will allow the University to host a safe celebration for the class of 2020 in September,” Harrison said.
 
Safiq Sindha, an alumnus who graduated in 2020, said as a first-generation college student, he’s looking forward to coming back to Austin to see his friends and walk the stage. 

“Among first-gen, (the graduation ceremony is) kind of that magical moment where it’s like, ‘Oh wow, I really did this. All of high school and college was worth it,’” Sindha said. “Also, I’m still a little salty that my last two months of college were ripped away by a virus.” 

Harrison said the University is taking a number of factors into consideration when deciding whether the ceremonies will take place, including the overall state of the COVID-19 pandemic on campus, in Austin and around the state. 

Harrison said the normal individual college ceremonies will not be held in May because of limitations on venue capacities. She said each school will have a moment of “recognition” for graduates with their names called to “cross the stage” virtually or in person. Harrison said the recognitions will be spread out over multiple days to avoid large gatherings and will be live-streamed. 
 
Ben Montero, an alumnus who graduated in 2020, said he probably won’t come back to Austin for the ceremony. 
 
Montero, now a special education teacher in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, said figuring out the logistics of coming back for a ceremony doesn’t seem worth it. 
 
“I felt like I got my closure post-graduation, even though it was virtual, but I kind of came to terms that it was virtual as well,” Montero said. “I really wish I could have had the privilege of having that commencement and being in front of (the UT Tower), but I think 2020, and a little bit of 2021, has shown us that nothing in life is guaranteed.”