Catholic University Announces In-Person Commencement for Class of 2021


Image courtesy of the Catholic University

By Jessica Fetrow

In an email addressed to members of the Catholic University community on April 9, university President John H. Garvey announced the institution’s commitment to hosting an in-person graduation ceremony. 

“We have found a way to provide an in-person graduation for the Class of 2021, though it won’t take place on our campus,” Garvey said. “We moved the May 15 event to FedEx Field in Maryland.”

The commencement ceremony will last approximately two hours and begin at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 15, 2021, at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. According to the email, recent COVID-19 regulations released on April 7 would not permit a gathering such as its annual commencement to be held on campus. The university’s commencement ceremony has been hosted on the University Mall since the 1960s. 

The announcement comes three weeks after a survey was sent via email on March 16 to the graduating class by Senators Dan Paviglianiti and Ally Kilgore of the class of 2021. The survey asked students their opinions on an in-person ceremony, a ceremony on-campus, the conferral of degrees organized by school, and the presence of guests at the ceremony. 

Several members of the graduating class took to social media to repost and celebrate the long-awaited news of an in-person ceremony. 

“As a senior, I am beyond grateful for the time, thought, and dedication that has been spent figuring out what is best for the Class of 2021,” said senior psychology major Elise Annett. “I am looking forward to having in-person graduation because my family and classmates are very important to me. My time at Catholic U is to be remembered and celebrated and I could not be any more grateful to have graduation in person no matter where the location is.”

The decision to host graduation in person has been met with significant praise by a majority of the class of 2021.

“I’m so glad that the university chose to explore all options when thinking of the 2021 commencement,” said senior anthropology and politics major Regina Brennan. “Graduating in person after such a hard year is a blessing and I hope this encourages all students and their attendees to register for their vaccine appointments so we can have as safe of proceedings as possible!” 

According to the university’s FAQ page, graduates will be able to bring a maximum of four guests to the ceremony, and ticket sharing between student families will not be permitted. The university also plans on hosting its annual Baccalaureate Mass in the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception as traditionally done, but graduates will not be permitted to bring guests. 

“I can’t wait for graduation,” said senior media and communication studies major Sarah Campbell. “Graduating at FedEx Field will be such a unique experience compared to years prior. Despite the fact that we will not be having a traditional graduation in front of the Basilica, the class of 2021’s ceremony will be one to remember.”

Although many members of the senior class were happy to learn of the university’s decision to hold an in-person ceremony, some students expressed frustration toward the last-minute announcement.

“After already having nearly three semesters entirely online, this extremely last-minute in-person graduation announcement does not mean anything to me,” said senior media and communication studies major Austin Pelli. “I already accepted that the remainder of my college experience was going to be virtual, and learning a little more than 30 days before the event date that we are going to do it in person seems way too last minute to adjust my plans now. They should have announced from the beginning of the semester that they were trying to make it work and updates will be provided later.”

In addition to the announcement that this year’s ceremony will be held in person, the university also reasserted its commitment to hosting an in-person ceremony for the class of 2020 “once it is safe to do so.” This was met by disappointment from members of last year’s graduating class. 

“I’m so glad that the university was able to find a solution to hosting an in-person commencement to celebrate the class of 2021 in a timely manner,” said class of 2020 graduate Aly Senko. “However, it becomes increasingly disappointing that the university is failing to present the class of 2020 with timely and tangible options for commencement. We graduated into an unprecedented situation, but the university seems uncommitted to giving us closure and celebrating our degrees like every other class at CUA.”

This year’s commencement speaker will be William Chester Jordan, Dayton-Stockton professor of history at Princeton University, as well as University Chancellor Cardinal Wilton Gregory.

According to the email, honorary degrees will be presented this year to “Dr. Jordan; to Pierre Manent, French political scientist and academic; Tommy Espinoza, president, CEO, and co-founder of Raza Development Fund, the largest Latino community development financial institution in the U.S. for the past 20 years; Kathleen McChesney, former FBI Executive Assistant Director and a leading expert in addressing the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse crisis; and Joe Carlini ‘84, CEO at McKean Defense Group and outgoing chairman of the Catholic University board of trustees.”

For more information regarding the upcoming graduation ceremony, please visit the FAQ section of the website or contact the Office of Events and Conference Services at [email protected].

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