February 16, 2021
The Board of Governors is providing the State University System of Florida Blueprint for Spring Semester 2021 Commencements that identifies critical elements to guide the 12 state universities as each one develops an individualized plan for Spring graduation, a most joyous time for our graduates and their families. Each university has a dedicated mission with special strengths and features, and it is important to recognize that each campus community is unique with students from all regions of the state, nation, and world. It is critical that each university graduation plan prioritize the health and well- being of all students, faculty, staff, volunteers, and visitors.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidance continues to emphasize that all individuals need to follow all steps to protect themselves and others from the COVID-19 virus at all times, including proper use of face masks, social distancing, and personal hygiene. It is important to note that CDC guidance is based on what is currently known about COVID-19 and its variants. Recognizing that university graduation ceremonies typically occur in late April- early May, planning for all graduation events should prioritize and implement the most current CDC guidance.
It is equally important that all campus and external messaging that addresses Spring Semester commencement emphasize that every individual coming on to a state university campus for a graduation event should be expected to accept personal responsibility for his/her actions by following all current CDC recommendations and university policies and procedures.
As each university deliberates on whether to provide spring semester in-person graduation ceremonies, or offer virtual ceremonies, or postpone ceremonies until a later date, this Blueprint presents issues, policy options, and strategies in three areas: The Campus, The Ceremony, and The Community.
THE CAMPUS: A Venue
- Selection of a ceremony location will depend on size of venue needed, availability, and ability to follow CDC guidelines within the facility.
- An off-campus city, county, or private venue may provide a more appropriate location for social distancing, depending on the size requirements, availability, and cost. ADA compliance will be required.
- If available, an outdoor venue may be preferable to an indoor venue, due to size and reduced opportunities for virus spread. If the ceremony is held outside, weather, time of day, additional staffing, and appropriate access and egress will be key considerations in this decision. A severe weather plan will be needed.
- A Drive-through or Walk-through ceremony may be an appropriate alternative if there is an available outdoor location, sufficient space, and workable logistics.
- The availability and sufficiency of restroom facilities will need to be considered prior to selection of a venue.
- A cleaning of the facilities, both prior to, during, and after a ceremony is recommended.
- Signage is recommended around the outside and inside of the venue to remind guests of all CDC and university restrictions for the event.
- Sanitizing stations with hand sanitizers should be conveniently available throughout the venue.
- Universities should engage with and consult student leadership in planning for graduation events.
- The size of the venue will determine and may limit the number of guests permitted to attend in order to adhere to CDC guidelines. There may be conditions with limitations that warrant a “students-only” ceremony.
- To adhere to social distancing requirements, it may be necessary to increase the number of graduation ceremonies and provide a greater number of smaller ceremonies. This option would likely result in additional days, longer ceremonies, and higher costs (facilities, staffing, health & safety requirements, water, security and EMS coverage, parking).
- To maintain recommended social distancing, a contactless ceremony is recommended for the areas of event ticketing and entry, official programs, facility ushering and monitoring, and the awarding of degrees.
- Universities should provide LIVE webcast and/or video of the ceremony for individuals who are unable or unwilling to attend the event.
- Faculty and staff attendance should be limited according to the requirements for the awarding of degrees.
- If a graduation speaker is recommended, specific protocols and procedures will be needed. Both in-person and video presentations should be considered.
- Options for photos of graduates should be explored. In light of social distancing recommendations, formal, pre-arranged appointments that follow the ceremony or are scheduled over an extended period of days should be considered.
- Graduation event planning should include communication with local government and civic leaders, the county health department, neighboring business owners, and health care providers, particularly if an off-campus venue is used.
- Commencement date, location, and time of day are all important planning considerations as they will directly affect area hotels, restaurants, and retail stores and will impact adherence to CDC guidelines for these establishments.
- The availability and administration of vaccinations in your campus community and in the surrounding communities should continue to be monitored for its impact on future planning.
Additional information is available at the following CDC websites:
Considerations for Events and Gatherings
Gatherings and Community Events
Board of Governors
Marshall M. Criser III
State University System of Florida