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Penn State ‘Exploring Options’ For In-Person Spring 2021 Commencement

Penn State is officially considering hosting in-person commencement ceremonies for the Class of 2021 in May, the university announced late Tuesday night.

In a statement, the university said administrators will ultimately decide how to host graduation with the health and safety of students, their families, and their campuses as the highest priority. The decision would also be at the will of state and federal guidelines for in-person gatherings.

“We understand an in-person commencement ceremony is a momentous occasion for our students and families, and as a University community. We are planning for opportunities to gather in person as the preferred option to recognize the many accomplishments of our graduates,” Penn State President Eric Barron said. “Of course, any in-person ceremony will look very different from past ones and will depend on the reality of the pandemic in our communities as we get closer to May commencement.”

Currently, Pennsylvania’s Department of Health permits outdoor gatherings with up to 2,500 people who wear masks and socially distance when possible. The university noted that current guidelines would require “multiple events” at University Park.

Commonwealth Campuses, meanwhile, would need to determine their own procedures based on the local ordinances and limitations in place in their regions of Pennsylvania.

Penn State said it’s currently monitoring a number of factors, including local vaccine distribution rates, travel restrictions, local and regional virus prevalence, and enforced health guidelines.

According to Penn State, any potential ceremony would take place outdoors “rain or shine.” However, it would still provide virtual festivities for those who might not be able to attend a hypothetical ceremony in person.

The university suggested enforcing a number of unorthodox procedures for an in-person ceremony, including limiting celebration sizes, placing “strict limitations” on guest attendees, and spreading the ceremony out over a set of dates “beyond the length of a typical graduation weekend.”

Barron said Penn State plans to ultimately make a decision or provide more “concrete information” sometime in March.

“We need to get further into the semester and then assess conditions,” Barron said. “We also understand that we need to make a decision as early as we can, as it takes time to organize outdoor events, and students and families need time to make plans.”

In the meantime, Penn State said it’s planning an entirely virtual ceremony as an alternative backup plan if in-person festivities aren’t feasible.

In a statement, the university reiterated it’s committed to inviting recent graduates, namely those who earned degrees last spring, summer, and fall, to return to campus for in-person commencement ceremonies of their own. Penn State said it’ll share more information about those plans later on down the line.

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About the Author

Matt DiSanto

By day, Matt is a senior majoring in journalism. By night, he's Onward State's managing editor. He's a huge Philadelphia sports fan, fantasy football lover, and washed-up drummer hailing from Collegeville, Pa. The quickest way to his heart is Margherita pizza and "Arrested Development" quotes. Follow him on Twitter @mattdisanto_ if you hate yourself or email Matt at [email protected] if you hate him.

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