Campus Life

Penn State to explore options for in-person spring 2021 commencement ceremonies

Health and safety will guide an expected decision in March for University Park and across campuses

Penn State is exploring options for potential in-person May commencement ceremonies at University Park and the Commonwealth Campuses for spring 2021 graduates in accordance with state and federal guidelines for gatherings. Credit: Patrick Mansell / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — With the spring 2021 semester underway, Penn State is exploring options for potential in-person May commencement ceremonies at University Park and the Commonwealth Campuses for spring 2021 graduates. Given ongoing challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all decisions and plans will be made with the health and safety of students, their families, and campus communities as the priority and in accordance with state and federal guidelines for gatherings.

“We understand an in-person commencement ceremony is a momentous occasion for our students and families, and as a University community. We are planning for opportunities to gather in person as the preferred option to recognize the many accomplishments of our graduates,” said Penn State President Eric Barron. “Of course, any in-person ceremony will look very different from past ones and will depend on the reality of the pandemic in our communities as we get closer to May commencement.”

Factors to consider include vaccination distribution rates; travel restrictions for out-of-town guests, if limited numbers of guests are possible; local and regional virus prevalence and conditions at campus locations; and local, state and federal guidelines. 

Any potential in-person ceremonies will likely take place outdoors, rain or shine, while still offering options to view the festivities virtually. For example, the format may be structured differently, be smaller in size based on gathering limitations, have strict limitations on the number of guests, and occur over a set of dates extending beyond the length of a typical graduation weekend. Current Pennsylvania Department of Health regulations permit physically distanced outdoor gatherings of up to 2,500 individuals, a limit that would necessitate multiple events at University Park. Ceremony locations for each of the Commonwealth Campuses also would be determined by Department of Health regulations and venues that can safely facilitate a spring outdoor commencement ceremony.

Barron said the University hopes to make a decision, or at least provide more concrete information, sometime in March. “We need to get further into the semester and then assess conditions. We also understand that we need to make a decision as early as we can, as it takes time to organize outdoor events, and students and families need time to make plans,” he said.

Penn State will plan for an entirely virtual ceremony as an alternative, based on public health conditions.

With virtual ceremonies having served as the first step in recognizing the academic achievements of members of the Class of 2020, as previously shared, the University remains committed to inviting these recent graduates and their guests back for in-person gatherings. Penn State is exploring when and how these may take place, bearing in mind that any gathering must adhere to all required guidelines. As plans are developed, more information will be shared with the Class of 2020, including graduates from spring, summer and fall, and posted to Penn State News and the University’s commencement website.

Last Updated January 27, 2021