Commencement set to be in-person, welcome vaccinated guests
The University announced Monday that the Yale College commencement will be held in person in May and welcome vaccinated guests and family members for the first time since 2019.
Yale seniors will gather with family and friends this May at the College’s first traditional in-person commencement in three years.
Commencement weekend will begin with the Baccalaureate ceremony, held on Old Campus on May 22, followed by Class Day that afternoon. The commencement ceremony itself will be held on Old Campus on May 23 and will be followed by residential college diploma ceremonies. If they are fully vaccinated, family members and other guests will be allowed to attend the event for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
“I look forward to celebrating our 2022 graduates in May, and to welcoming their families and guests to Yale’s 321st commencement,” Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews told the News. “Although some adjustments will be required to ensure everyone’s health and safety, we are enthusiastic about congratulating graduates on their extraordinary accomplishments with traditional ceremonies and events for the first time since 2019.”
Guests were prohibited from the commencement weekend that Yale hosted in 2021, which allowed graduating seniors to gather in-person for their commencement ceremony but moved Class Day celebrations and University President Peter Salovey’s address to an online format. Prior to that, in 2020, Yale’s commencement ceremony was conducted entirely virtually.
This year, Director of University events Heather Calabrese told the News that the University was committed to maintaining as many of the in-person commencement experiences as possible. Calabrese emphasized, however, that all commencement plans are dependent on public health conditions and the University policies in place at the time of the event.
“We are cautiously optimistic that we can get back to the traditional framework for commencement,” Calabrese said. “The President’s commitment and the Secretary’s commitment has been all along to get as close to what is traditional as absolutely possible. The first considerations were ‘Can we have in-person events?’ and ‘Can we have families and guests?’ and the answers to both of those questions was yes.”
In order to minimize potential exposure to COVID-19, the Baccalaureate ceremony, traditionally held in Woolsey Hall, has been moved outdoors to Old Campus.
Additional information about public health guidelines for commencement — including whether students and guests will be required to wear masks in densely populated outdoor gatherings — will be released closer to the date of commencement depending on evolving public health circumstances.
Anne Northrup ’22, however, told the News that any information about commencement came as a relief, because it allowed her to more easily make plans for her family to attend.
“I don’t think it’s quite in-person commencement as normal,” Northrup wrote in an email to the News. “Rather, it sounds like it will be in-person commencement according to the new normal … And, of course, there’s that characteristic vague wording buried in the middle of the email to give Yale a bit of wiggle room, in case public health conditions change.”
Northrup noted, however, that being able to tentatively plan for an in-person commencement still relieved “at least one headache.”
The vaccination requirement for guests and visitors poses a challenge for Clayton Land ’22, who expressed his concern that members of his family would not be able to attend his commencement because they are unvaccinated.
“I’m a first generation college student, so not having my family there seeing an accomplishment like that kind of sucks,” Land said. “I agree with the decision completely to make guests vaccinate, I just think it sucks there’s really no option for them to be able to come to my commencement.”
Although Land said he supported the University’s decision to impose a vaccination requirement, he suggested that Yale offer the option to test negative before traveling to campus or upon arrival.
Calabrese told the News that she understood that the vaccination requirement could create complications for some students’ families and explained that the Office of the Secretary was working with public health policy makers to determine if there was an option that would allow unvaccinated guests to safely travel to campus.
“The policy right now is that the vaccine is required, and we’re going to explore a little bit deeper if there are alternatives to that that would allow others to participate,” Calabrese said. “I’m not sure that that will be allowed, but we are definitely committed to exploring the options.”
Because the COVID-19 pandemic has led more students than usual to take leaves of absences, Calabrese explained that there will be more “walkers” — students who opt to participate in commencement celebrations with a class that they are not formally graduating with — than ever before.
To walk with the class of 2021, Calabrese said, students should contact their residential college deans to receive a permission form.
An additional commencement ceremony will also be held on May 14 for students in the class of 2020 who never had an in-person commencement. After a Yale College-wide ceremony, residential colleges will host individual gatherings celebrating 2020 graduates.
“There will be an opportunity within residential colleges for the 2020 alums to come together and be celebrated by their colleges, which is the most important part of those diploma ceremonies,” Calabrese said. “The graduate school and the professional schools will also make their own choices about what their associated ceremonies or social activities look like.”
More information about commencement weekend is available online.