The university will honor fall 2020 and spring 2021 graduates at Wildcat Stadium for the commencement ceremonies May 7-8, but it will look different than in year’s past due to COVID-19 regulations.
Dr. Eric Gumm, registrar and director of the first-year program and academic development, said it’s a relief to have a slow return to normal that allows this celebration.
“Not being able to do that last May and December has been a rollercoaster for some people,” Gumm said. “So, it’s super exciting to think about a semi-normal commencement ceremony.”
Because of the combined graduates in one ceremony, Gumm said it will be one of the largest in recent memory.
“It’s going to be a larger ceremony than we’ve seen as a result of combining December and May, which makes it that much greater in terms of campus celebration,” Gumm said. “It won’t look like normal, but it is one more step back to a normal ending of a college experience.”
Toni Young, alumni relations and university events coordinator, said there are no contingency plans for the commencement if weather becomes a factor.
“We don’t have a place to move it inside. The only contingency may be changing the time if we have to, but that would be very difficult for people arriving,” Young said. “So, there are no contingency plans as of right now.”
Gumm asked for prayer that Abilene stay dry during commencement.
“If we can just get everybody to pray for clear weather for those two days, that would be fantastic,” Gumm said.
Masks and social distancing will not be required at Wildcat Stadium for those attending, but masks will be required at the Teague Center where escorts and graduates will meet before the beginning of the ceremony.
“It won’t look quite like August did,” Gumm said. “We are going to require masks for graduates and escorts in Teague. When we do our lineup for the ceremony, we will be indoors and we won’t be able to social distance, so we will require masks then.”
While masks will not be required at Wildcat Stadium, they will be encouraged for attendees.
“We’re going to encourage masks just like the university does broadly for the outdoor ceremony,” Gumm said. “We want to make sure people are comfortable. We will not mandate them, but we want to have that balance perspective.”
The university does not anticipate there will be a capacity issue due to the vast number of seating options.
In addition to the coronavirus restrictions, the May commencement will be slightly longer than before. Gumm said most commencements last around an hour-and-a-half. Because of the larger number of graduates, it’s expected to last around two hours.
December commencement is expected to take place in Moody Coliseum, but construction delays or a prolonged pandemic could create changes.
“With all construction projects, we will continue to evaluate it over the course of the summer and see where we’re at,” Gumm said. “We’ll benchmark at the beginning of the fall, and if that no longer looks realistic, then we’ll have to have a backup plan for that.”