2021 Graduation Ceremony Moves From In-Person to Virtual

Lukas Keapproth | Loyola University ChicagoLoyola announced it plans to hold a virtual commencement ceremony for the class of 2021 as COVID-19 restrictions limit in-person gatherings.

As COVID-19 cases surge in Chicago with no clear ending in sight, Loyola’s Office of the President announced Nov. 2 the university won’t be hosting an in-person ceremony for the graduating class of 2021. This announcement led to pushback from some of the senior class.

Instead of the usual in-person graduation, Loyola is opting for a virtual graduation experience, including five days of ceremonies. The first day, May 10, will include a baccalaureate mass. Separate graduation ceremonies designated for various schools will occur throughout the commencement week. 

According to the email, in-person gatherings at Loyola campuses are restricted under city and state guidelines for the foreseeable future. However, Loyola still plans to mark the achievement of graduates in unique virtual ways as typical congratulations are not possible this year, administrators said. 

This is not the first virtual commencement Loyola has put into place. For the class of 2020, Loyola made the commencement virtual with an announcement in mid-March when large gatherings were against COVID-19 guidelines as they are today.

A petition created by Murphy Cavanaugh, a Loyola senior studying mathematics, about the graduation decision was created so the graduating class could voice their opinions to the administration. 

Cavanaugh, with the help of some friends, started the petition Nov. 2 — the day Loyola announced virtual graduation. The petition was asking Loyola officials to let the class of 2021’s voices be heard and called for an open discussion with the administration, according to Cavanaugh, 21.

The long term goal of the petition is to make in-person graduation possible for those who would like to participate in it. The petition currently has more than 1,400 signatures and Cavanaugh said she has a meeting planned with some Loyola administrators to discuss possibilities.

“Some of the goals I have with the administration is that I want to send out a survey to the senior class about the graduation and delay the overall decision,” Cavanaugh said. “Also potentially organize a senior commencement planning committee in accordance with all guidelines and then propose a plan to make an in-person graduation.” 

Guidance from the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois clarifies it’s highly unlikely Loyola will be able to host large events by early May 2021, according to Loyola spokesperson Anna Shymanski Zach.

Under state guidelines, Loyola is limited to gatherings of 50 inside and 100 outside. Typically, Loyola welcomes around 25,000 people to campus during commencement week and that “sadly is not feasible under current guidelines,” according to Shymanski Zach.

Additionally, Loyola wanted to provide graduates and their families with advance notice and allow the university enough time to plan for the virtual event, according to Shymanski Zach.

“Commencement is one of the most treasured Loyola traditions that everyone within our community looks forward to,” Shymanski Zach said. “Although the format will be different this year, we’re confident that Virtual Commencement will still be special and a memorable milestone celebrating our graduating students’ achievements.”

Ellie Kinney, a senior majoring in Advertising/Public Relations, said she was disappointed by the news of her commencement moving online. 

“I was really gutted,” Kinney, 21, said. “I first got the information from my friend group chat and we were all sad. Having graduation being canceled so early I feel robbed, but I think if I was on campus it wouldn’t be so bad.”

Kinney said the news of the virtual graduation wasn’t what she expected. She was also disappointed that Loyola seemed to make this decision so early, especially with plans to bring some students back on campus in the spring semester.

“To me, the situation seems like they aren’t trying to find any alternate solutions,” Kinney said.

Though graduation for the senior class is looking different this year, Kinney said she and her friends still plan to celebrate all of their accomplishments at Loyola in a small gathering together in their Rogers Park apartment, as they have all been quarantined together throughout this academic year. 

“I want to be able to just acknowledge all I’ve accomplished in my four years,” Kinney said.

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