In Jasmine Williams' family, graduating from the University of Michigan is a rite of passage. Her parents met on the campus, and her older sister graduated from the school a few years ago. She remembers sitting bundled up in the family section for that graduation. "It was overwhelming to feel so many people that proud," she says, "I remember sitting there watching her, and that was probably the first time I was like, 'OK, yeah, I like this. I can't wait to do this.'
This year, Williams' own graduation will look a bit different. The main undergraduate ceremony will be all virtual, though the university has invited students to watch that ceremony from the football stadium on campus known as the Big House. There will be no family members in attendance, and students will be required to have a negative COVID-19 test result to enter.
"I think it's hard not to downplay it when it's reduced to a Zoom," says Williams. But come Saturday, she's planning on donning her cap and gown and heading to the stadium with friends. "Knowing that we are going to the Big House to watch together as a class makes everything way more enjoyable for the weekend; to be able to at least get some remnants of what I witnessed years ago with my sister." Her family plans to host a streaming party from their home in Detroit.
As an academic year like no other comes to an end, colleges and universities are celebrating their graduates in a variety of ways. Some schools, like the University of Idaho and Virginia Tech are hosting multiple smaller, in-person ceremonies to comply with social distancing mandates. Others, like Iowa State, are hosting large ceremonies in football stadiums and outdoor arenas. There's also a handful that are doing virtual-only again, like the University of Washington and Portland State University. At some schools, including the University of Michigan and Emmanuel College in Boston, in-person events are restricted to just graduates; family and friends have to watch from a livestream.
For lots of students, the effort to be in-person is greatly appreciated. "You work hard those four years, you dream of that day, getting to graduate in-person and walk across the stage," says Jamontrae Christmon, a graduating senior at Tennessee State University in Nashville. For most of the year he assumed graduation would be virtual. He even sent out his graduation announcements to friends and family — and left the date off. Weeks later, he learned TSU would actually hold a May 1st in-person ceremony in the football stadium.