Catholic College Graduations, Like the Academic Year, Have Changes


Catholic college graduation ceremonies—like everything else this past year—look different. But they are primarily happening in-person unlike last year, when many ceremonies were canceled or took place virtually.

Some commencement ceremonies will be in bigger venues to give crowds more space to be socially distant, while others will be outside for the first time.

Many schools also are honoring last year's graduates, who didn't get the chance to publicly mark this milestone, during this year's celebrations.

Across the board, colleges and universities seemed to be significantly limiting the number of guests each graduate can invite, and encouraging others to view the ceremony on what is now a familiar venue: livestream.

Many Catholic colleges have listed a backup plan if there is inclement weather, tapping into the flexibility they have used during the past year to adapt to Covid-19 restrictions.

The Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, for example, said in its graduation announcement: "Please note that all plans are subject to change as we respond to health and safety protocols in a rapidly changing environment."

To accommodate students and their guests at this year's graduation, the University of Dayton, a Marianist-run school in Ohio, held six smaller ceremonies in its arena for the May 7-9 graduations, where graduates were each allowed four guests.

Before the event, Gretchen Theil, the university's registrar coordinator, said that ceremonies would look different from graduations in previous years.

For starters, students would not process into the arena; instead, the school planned an abbreviated procession of essential university support staff. She also said there would be limited interaction between students and staff members and no handshakes. Each ceremony was limited to 90 minutes to allow for required cleaning and setup for the next ceremony.

John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., similarly sent a message to the school community about this year's different graduation ceremony May 15 at FedEx Field, the stadium that is home to the Washington Football Team, in Landover, Md.

In his April 9 message, he pointed out that since the 1960s, Catholic University has held its commencement on the campus mall adjacent to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

"It's always beautiful," he said, but noted the Covid-19 guidelines for the District of Columbia made a ceremony there impossible last year and would have significantly limited the number of guests this year. With the new venue, graduates could each have four guests and the event also will be livestreamed, he said.

At Assumption University in Worcester, Mass., the university's president, Francesco Cesareo, told graduates during the May 9 ceremony that they represent a milestone in the school's history.

"This year, you have also shown yourself to be resilient as you adapted to the changes that were necessary as we addressed the impact of the pandemic," he said. "The sacrifices you made have allowed you to grow as a person in ways that were unexpected. In this way, the pandemic shaped your education as it shaped you as well." —CNS