Commencement plans take shape

President’s messages to campus focus on commencement, challenges, and crafting a virtual but standout plan

A few weeks back, the university announced that spring commencement ceremonies would be held virtually. A decision like this ultimately rests upon one member of the campus, and that is the President. The purpose of today’s letter is three-fold: to express my gratitude to each of you, to explain the commencement decision, and to offer a sense of what to expect.

The pandemic has challenged college campuses across the nation. I’m proud of the work the members of the UND team have put forth since last spring. We have fought hard to keep the campus operating at a time when many campuses shut down for on-campus classes, some for weeks and others for the entire fall semester. Our students, faculty, and staff have remained steadfast in their commitment to learning and growth. They have looked out for each other and kept each other upbeat during a challenging time.

Throughout the pandemic, our No. 1 priority has been to minimize the risk to our students, faculty, and staff while offering the best on-campus experience for our students. That guiding principle is essential for all of our spring semester activities, including commencement. The prospect of widespread vaccinations this summer will naturally minimize the risk and allow us to get back to normal for the fall semester.

Yet, we are not there yet. In good conscience, I cannot approve an event that places a significant number of faculty and staff members and our students in a risky position. Further, I cannot risk holding an event that places family members of our graduates in such a position. We considered a graduates-only commencement, but quickly realized the necessary safety restrictions would make this an uninspiring event.

Instead, in talking with students, we crafted a plan where we will honor graduates individually at the end of the semester. We will hold a separate activity where each graduate will have the opportunity to receive their diploma folder and cross the commencement stage while hearing their name announced. This will include a photo op, such as they would have at a typical commencement ceremony, one on-stage photo with the President and one posed photo as graduates leave the stage.

It is our way of thanking graduates for their hard work in a personalized way. Information on this “Grad Walk and Photo Op” activity will soon be sent to all eligible graduates at their UND e-mail addresses.

We will record graduates crossing the stage and make that video available as part of our virtual commencement ceremony on May 15. This will allow each graduate to celebrate alongside their families while watching their virtual commencement ceremony, which wouldn’t be possible with an on-campus, student-only commencement ceremony.

Let me strongly urge each family to use this as an opportunity to boldly celebrate your graduate’s achievement, together and in the safety of your family unit. This is an extraordinary life accomplishment, and the work we are doing to individually recognize your graduates should be matched by your family’s excitement to honor your loved one.

I know firsthand how this feels. My daughter graduated from college last spring, and we felt her disappointment in having her senior year cut short and having to graduate virtually. This is not how we would like to celebrate. It is the right approach given the remaining uncertainty of the pandemic, and our commencement team is working hard to make this a special occasion.

Looking forward, let me invite each graduate, their family members, and their friends to return to campus for a traditional, in-person commencement whenever it fits your schedule. We are currently anticipating an in-person graduation in August, following the summer term. The widespread vaccinations happening this summer should allow us to more safely celebrate at a traditional commencement ceremony.

Graduates: please accept my most sincere congratulations on your success at UND. I know you will make a difference in this world, and we are proud that you chose the University of North Dakota to set you on course for a lifetime of success.  Family members: I appreciate the support you’ve provided to your graduate for their entire UND career and, most importantly, during the difficult times of the pandemic. Through your love and support, you laid the important foundation that led your loved one to this day.

With respect and enormous pride in you,

Andy Armacost
UND President