University News

Spring Commencement update

This spring, Carolina will host in-person Commencement ceremonies in Kenan Stadium, with two of the nation’s leaders in COVID-19 research delivering the keynote speech. We look forward to honoring the Class of 2021.

A UNC-Chapel Hill graduation tassel with an Old Well on it.

Dear Carolina Community,

I am writing to update you on our plans for Spring Commencement. Commencement is one of the most exciting and joyous occasions on campus, and we look forward to honoring our graduates and their achievements, despite the challenges of the ongoing pandemic. After enduring so much to get to their big day, the class of 2021 will enjoy at least one more day of the Carolina experience they love so much.

I am pleased to announce for our class of 2021: you will have the option of attending a live graduation ceremony, you will be able to invite two guests and your Commencement speakers will be two of the biggest global names in COVID 19 research — Drs. Anthony Fauci and Kizzmekia Corbett, a Carolina alumna. We will also do our best to deliver Carolina blue skies for the events.

By way of background, let me assure you that these decisions did not come easy and we do not take lightly our responsibility to protect the health and welfare of our campus community, neighbors and your loved ones. After consulting with University leaders, the Orange County Health Department, our infectious disease and public health experts, and the class of 2021, we are giving graduates the choice of joining us for a safe, outdoor, in-person ceremony or celebrating virtually. Undergraduate students in the Class of 2021 overwhelmingly told us that they wanted to attend an in-person event, and we are doing everything we can to make that happen, especially at the end of such a tough academic year. We also know that some graduates prefer a virtual event, and we will livestream the ceremony for those who would rather watch it from home.

Before I share our plans for Spring Commencement, it’s important to remember that although we have come a long way since the start of the semester, we must remain vigilant in protecting our community. We are encouraged by improving positivity rates and other trends in North Carolina and our nation as well as the vaccine availability and distribution efforts. We will continue to do everything possible to help our graduates experience the live in-person graduation that they deserve. I encourage all of you to maintain strict adherence to the COVID-19 Community Standards and get the vaccine as soon as it is available to you.

Multiple in-person ceremonies

To comply with current mass gathering restrictions, we will hold multiple in-person, ticketed ceremonies on May 14, 15 and 16 in Kenan Stadium. The ceremonies will be led by a small platform party and feature live and pre-recorded content.

Graduates will be grouped by their school or department in the College of Arts & Sciences so that classmates can celebrate together. We will release the schedule for each school and department after ticket registration closes and we are able to identify how many graduates will be participating in-person. Please note that schools and departments may also hold their own virtual events, but this will be the only in-person ceremony.

Attendees must follow all COVID-19 Community Standards and the stadium will close after each ceremony for cleaning. To limit crowd size, we will not host the General Alumni Association’s 50th reunion and are asking faculty to watch the ceremony by livestream. Per our own COVID-19 Community Standards we will also not have our traditional processional as graduates would have to stand too close to each other.

Commencement speakers

I am pleased to share that all ceremonies will feature a virtual address by two of the nation’s leading COVID-19 experts, Drs. Fauci and Corbett. Over the past year, these two medical leaders have worked tirelessly to serve our country and keep us safe. Drs. Fauci and Corbett embody our University’s mission of teaching, research and service, and their commitment to saving lives through discovery and innovation will inspire us all.

Reserve your seat

Students who have applied to graduate through the registrar’s office will receive an email with a link to register to participate. You must register to attend an in-person ceremony by March 18. Students who do not register will not be allowed in the stadium. The registration link will be sent later today from commencement@unc.edu only to students who have applied to graduate so please be on the lookout.

Guest policy

Because of the pandemic, we are limited in the amount of people we can hold in Kenan Stadium. To ensure we comply with the state’s gathering restrictions, graduates may bring up to two guests to the ceremony. We know that many students come from large and blended families and this restriction will be difficult, but we must limit the number of guests so that we can accommodate everyone safely. If capacity restrictions should change, we will try to grant additional ticket needs. All ceremonies will be livestreamed, and we encourage family members who can’t attend to watch it from home. More information about guest tickets will be available later on the Commencement website.

Doctoral Hooding Ceremony

The Graduate School will celebrate doctoral graduates with a virtual hooding ceremony this year. The event will honor individuals who earned their doctorates between August 2019 and May 2021. The virtual hooding will recognize doctoral recipients in a variety of ways and will include pre-recorded content, available for viewing at 1 p.m. on May 15. We will continue to share details throughout the spring, and doctoral recipients and candidates should expect an email outreach from The Graduate School shortly. Graduate students in the class of 2021 who wish to attend an in-person celebration should register to attend their program/school ceremony in Kenan Stadium.

Class of 2020

We have remained in contact with leaders of the Class of 2020 about plans to recognize their achievements. As we announced yesterday to the class, our current plans are to host a reunion/commencement type of weekend Oct. 9-10 in Chapel Hill for them to reunite and partake in some of the traditions they missed in spring 2020. We will continue to work with them to evaluate the most appropriate ways to celebrate their graduation.

Next steps

Graduates, remember to watch your inboxes for the follow-up email with Commencement registration details and respond by March 18.We will announce dates and times for the ceremonies after we know how many students will attend in-person and how many ceremonies we need to hold to accommodate everyone.

Please note that we are planning for these events based on current public health guidance. If local or state ordinances change, we will modify our plans accordingly. We will issue any updates no later than April 16. Although this will not be a traditional ceremony, it is our best opportunity to safely come together to celebrate a significant milestone in our students’ lives. We will continue to keep you updated and look forward to seeing you in May.

Kevin M. Guskiewicz