How UI has planned for this years commencement ceremonies

By Mariah Guzman

Last year, the University of Illinois’ in-person commencement was canceled due to COVID-19. It had just a few months to plan an online version for commencement in order for graduates to celebrate from home. This year, each individual college within the university is offering an online commencement but is also giving students the opportunity for individual stage crossing ceremonies with up to four guests to bring along with them. The stage crossings will be held at The Krannert Center for the performing arts where multiple stages will be used for graduates to pick up a diploma booklet and opt for photos.

Today Laura Wilhelm-Barr, the senior director of special events here at UI, joined UI7 Live for an interview for the Wednesday night show to explain what has gone into the process for planning.

One of the foremost things involved in the process was including the 2020 graduates who never got the opportunity for an in-person celebration.

“We felt it was incredibly important,” Wilhelm-Barr said. “That’s what we heard that the 2020 graduates most missed…they appreciated the opportunity to have an online celebration of their accomplishments. But they really missed that chance to walk across the stage, to cross the stage, to have their name called…and to have some of their family and friends with them to celebrate that particular moment. So the elements that they would have typically been able to have a virtual in-person celebration are going to be able to be delivered through virtual means. So the speeches and music, that we’ll still offer that through online celebrations. But in terms of the actual physical walk across the stage or crossing of the stage… we’re thrilled to be able to offer that to graduates on three or four stages at Krannert, throughout that those eight days.”

The idea for these in-person, individual crossings came from observations from other universities.

“We’ve noticed that some other universities did hold these events in December of last year,” Wilhelm-Barr said. “So as a way to still promote social distancing, to make sure that there were safe protocols in place for the graduates. So in a number of universities, we saw that, particularly in the south, we’re holding some of these stage crossings. And it’s something that other institutions in the state of Illinois have also been planning to do as well.”

Safety and adhering to proper COVID-19 precautions was one of the bigger things when thinking about the planning for these ceremonies.

“So at every entrance, we have a limit of four guests per graduate, and the graduates and their guests will all be required to wear face coverings…” Wilhelm-Barr said.

“And there will be social distancing between the pods of graduates. So as they enter the Krannert Center and the stage, they will be together as a group of — if they have four guests of five people — and then the group that would be behind them would be at least six feet apart. So we’re making sure to maintain that six feet social distancing, and that we are also enforcing that all our graduates in their guests must wear face coverings inside Krannert.”

That means no greetings at the stage crossings, and no typical handshake when collecting the diploma envelope.

“So graduates will not be presented a diploma, they will be able to pick one up and hold it in front of them and have a photo taken on stage,” Wilhelm-Barr said. “That is the only time that graduates will have the opportunity to remove their masks. So everyone will be far enough away that it will be safe to remove their masks, they’ll be able to hold the diploma cover for the photo, and then put the mask back on as they exit the building.”

You can watch the interview that aired on UI7 here:

More information on 2021 commencement: