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Stanford announces plans for in-person commencement

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Stanford will hold in-person commencement ceremonies for advanced degree holders on June 12 and for graduating seniors on June 13, President Marc Tessier-Lavigne announced in a Tuesday email. 

To be eligible to walk at commencement, students must have conferred their degrees in Summer 2020, Fall 2020, Winter 2021 or have applied to graduate by the deadline in Spring 2021.

This news comes after Stanford announced in February that it would hold completely virtual graduation ceremonies for the Class of 2021. After California public health guidelines changed in March, the University then indicated that it was reconsidering hosting an in-person ceremony. 

“Improvements in the public health situation and the very recent relaxation of some of the State of California’s public health orders, including guidelines on socially distanced outdoor commencement ceremonies and out-of-state visitors, have now made it possible for us to move forward with plans for a limited in-person gathering this June,” Tessier-Lavigne wrote. 

The ceremony will be held outdoors in Stanford Stadium, and attendees will be required to wear face coverings and practice social distancing. Each student will receive tickets for two guests. These tickets are non-transferrable, and guests will be required to register directly for their tickets prior to attending commencement. 

Stanford is requiring that guests and students traveling from outside California be fully vaccinated and that graduating students currently living on campus and guests from California be fully vaccinated or have proof of a negative COVID-19 test. 

The ceremony will be live-streamed for individuals who cannot attend in person, and a recording will be posted on Stanford’s YouTube channel. Students will be mailed their diplomas, and graduation ceremonies for specific schools and departments will remain virtual. 

Stanford’s reversal follows significant student support for in-person commencement ceremonies. Just Monday, undergraduate senators expressed support for a resolution calling for an optional, in-person graduation. In addition, Cami Tussie ’21 started a change.org petition for an in-person ceremony; the petition currently has 455 signatures and cites Stanford’s organization of an April 5 parade celebrating the women’s basketball team’s NCAA victory as evidence for the University’s capacity to host “large outdoor events following public health guidelines.”

David Pantera ’21, senior class president and undergraduate representative to the Board of Trustees, said that as public health restrictions in California continued to loosen, the senior class made it clear to the University administration that they wanted an in-person commencement ceremony. 

“Student sentiment drives the decisions in this process, and the administrators on the committee prioritize the student voice above all else,” Pantera wrote. “With everything we bring up, they listen to us fully. I personally feel so lucky to be working with this group of administrators.” 

Pantera feels that the University’s decision to proceed with an in-person commencement is an “exciting and necessary step in the absolute right direction.” However, he also acknowledged that there is still work to be done to ensure all members of the Class of 2021 can attend commencement and to make it a meaningful experience. 

According to Pantera, the senior class leadership is working to expand eligibility to walk at commencement to students who took a leave of absence, flex quarter and to those who are conferring their degrees at the end of the summer.

Stanford’s plans for an in-person commencement are similar to those of some peer institutions. Princeton announced earlier this month that their ceremony would be held outdoors and that, like Stanford, they would allow two guests per student. 

Yale will also hold an in-person ceremony but is not allowing guests, regardless of their vaccination status. Currently, Harvard, the University of Chicago and the University of California, Berkeley will not hold full in-person ceremonies for graduating students this year. UChicago will host smaller physical events for schools and departments, but guests will be prohibited, and UC Berkeley will allow staggered stage walk-throughs.

Tessier-Lavigne also wrote that the University is working with student leadership to recreate graduation traditions such as “Wacky Walk,” where students dress up in costumes as they enter Stanford Stadium, while maintaining public safety protocols. He also reaffirmed that Stanford will still offer an in-person graduation ceremony for the Class of 2020 at a later date.

“Our community continues to inspire me. While navigating the challenges and pressures over the past year, our graduates have been creative, determined and strong, simultaneously distanced yet together,” Tessier-Lavigne wrote. “I’m very much looking forward to celebrating — in Stanford Stadium — their achievements and marking the first steps of their new journeys!”

Pantera also spoke about the challenges the Class of 2021 has faced this year.  

“We deserve the best, and there are no excuses for any less. I’m really looking forward to seeing these logistics evolve, for the upcoming announcements regarding fun graduation events, and for the celebration that we all deserve,” he wrote. 

This article has been updated to include quotes from David Pantera ’21 and comparisons of Stanford’s commencement plans to those of peer institutions.


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Anuka Mohanpuhr ‘24 is a beat reporter who grew up in the Bay Area. She’s interested in studying Economics and Statistics. Contact the news section at news 'at' stanford.edu.