What a year … and 52 days! But who’s counting?
With University of Mary Washington Commencement ceremonies for the Classes of 2020 and 2021 taking place today through Sunday, we are.
When UMW paused in-person learning last spring, amid a growing pandemic, campus life as we knew it was thrown off kilter. Amid the disruption, Class of 2020 graduation plans were rescheduled, then put on hold. A robust MMDC (monitor, mask, distance and clean) campaign – and a gymnastics routine of face-to-face and virtual learning – brought students back to campus in the fall. But it’s been a long road.
Racial unrest and political angst swept the nation. Weekly emails from UMW’s “COVID-19 Implementation Team” told of fast-changing news: disease progression, vaccine availability and those hard-to-pin-down Commencement plans.
Now, with a web of socially distanced, guideline-adherent measures in place, Mary Washington presents the capstone activity for two extraordinary classes. Bring on the bagpipes, brightly colored honor cords, and decorated caps … and masks!
With everything else that’s been turned on its head, we’re flipping the number ’21, too. Here – in numerical order – are 12 things to know about one unconventional Commencement.
Pandemic protocols nix handshakes and the handing off of diplomas (or anything else). Non-tactile is in. Programs, like diplomas, will be mailed, and in lieu of firm grips, President Paino said, he’s doling out “a variety of ‘air’ expressions of congratulations and warmth.”
One new, reimagined location
Held on Ball Circle for decades, this year’s Commencement takes place on the Campus Recreation Field adjacent to U.S. 1. About 111,000 square feet were precisely measured and marked to accommodate social-distancing for graduates and their “pods” of well-wishers.
Two dynamic graduating classes
Detracted but not deterred, the more than 2,500 members of UMW’s Classes of 2020 and 2021 have pushed through an unprecedented time in higher education – and in the world – and proven themselves tenacious and bold. Just imagine what’s next!
Three Class of 2020 ceremonies
More than 1,300 strong, this group holds three – count them: three – Darden Award winners who earned a perfect 4.0 GPA. “It’s rare that you get the gift of time to fully appreciate the meaning of an accomplishment,” Paino said of this class, which waited a year for their Commencement. “I hope their unique perspective will help them understand the significance of being a part of this community and how much they mean to us.”
Four guests per graduate
With social distancing and other state mandates, each grad was allowed only four guests. Family and friends, seated in carefully measured “pods,” watch the ceremonies unfold. And thanks to livestreaming, so can everyone else!
Five AV and video staff volunteers
And that’s just the beginning. Including the AV crew, it took 88 on-the-ground volunteers, with students and staff from the Office of Events, Grounds and Facilities, and across campus to pull off this incredible pandemic-era event.
Six Class of 2021 ceremonies
The nearly 1,200 members of UMW’s Class of 2021 – whose grades have not yet been finalized – spent the entire last year of their college careers with social distancing, masks, and Zoom the norm. Said Paino: “I can’t help but think that this class is better prepared for the challenges of life than any other graduating class in Mary Washington history.”
Seven members of the platform party
Typically filled with rows of faculty and administrators and an invited speaker, pandemic-era Commencement platforms are sparse. Just seven people inhabit the stage, adorned with fluffy ferns and brilliant hydrangeas: a student, one faculty member, representatives of the alumni association and Board of Visitors, plus the official reader of names, and, of course, the provost and president.
Eight cups for coffee
It took much more java than that to get the members of the Office of Events staff through this marathon of planning and preparation. But that’s how many UMW coffee mugs they packaged and filled with flower arrangements for the Sunken Road residents whose homes were blocked off by the lineup of grads before the procession. Think of the details!
With two years’ worth of graduates and social-distancing mandates doled out by the state, Commencement festivities couldn’t take place all at once. It took nine separate ceremonies – each abbreviated and limited to no more than 150 grads, but strong on pomp and circumstance – to accommodate all the participants.
Ten feet of separation between seats
UMW designed a ticketing system to heed contact-tracing regulations. Plans were designed and refined. White chairs – placed precisely 10 feet apart – stand out on the emerald-colored field. But not as much as the graduates seated in them.
1,100 participating graduates
During a pandemic? Enough said. Congratulations!