For graduates of the Class of 2021, the walk across the Commencement stage this year was unlike any experienced by previous classes. The Campus Commencement Experience on Thursday, May 13, through Saturday, May 15, offered graduates an in-person opportunity for celebration and closure after years of hard work, even though pandemic safety rules forced the Commencement speaking program online [Commencement Speaker Brian Skerry ’84 Urges Graduates to ‘Find a Perfect Pebble’ ].
Some parts of the in-person experience were recognizable: Students dressed in caps and gowns and heard their names called out over the P.A. system as they marched across the stage to the familiar strains of “Pomp and Circumstance,” pausing to bask in the applause of family and friends, as well as President Barry M. Maloney and other University leaders who stood behind them on stage. Faculty were on hand as well to call out best wishes to their former students.
But the journey to reach the stage, which was set up in front of the Administration Building rather than in the DCU Center as usual, reflected the challenges of staying safe during a pandemic. Graduates were invited to campus for one of six two-hour sessions, based on major and degree received. (A seventh was reserved for Class of 2020 graduates on Saturday.) Upon arrival to campus, graduates and their supporters remained in their cars, lining up in a queue reminiscent of residence hall move-in days at the beginning of each semester.
Then cars were directed, a few at a time, to drive up through upper campus and down past Lake Ellie, where each graduate received a bag of Worcester State swag from the Alumni Association, a Commencement program, and a diploma cover. A few cars at a time were then directed to a location in front of the stage, where the occupants were allowed to briefly exit to experience the graduates’ walk across the stage. Many participants then drove or walked to the front of campus to take photos in front of the Tiffany Alumni Gates and other iconic spots.
More than 900 students received this moment in the sun—literally given the mostly beautiful weather—including 200 from the Class of 2020. Eighty faculty and staff volunteers helped keep the process running smoothly over the three days.