On May 16, William & Mary will mark the day that was previously reserved for this year’s Commencement exercises with its first-ever virtual conferral ceremony.
President Katherine A. Rowe, Chancellor Robert M. Gates ’65 L.H.D. ’98, Provost Peggy Agouris and the deans will preside over a virtual ceremony for all graduates of the Class of 2020 – undergraduate, graduate and professional. All students who have completed their graduation requirements will receive their diplomas via mail, following Saturday’s virtual conferral.
The main virtual ceremony will be conducted at 10 a.m. Departmental ceremonies will follow throughout the day, in various time blocks, which will be posted on the university’s Commencement website.
“The Class of 2020 deserves to be celebrated fully,” Rowe and Vice President for Student Affairs Ginger Ambler said in a statement to the W&M community. “In the spirit of ‘both/and,’ we will honor them in both May and October, both virtually and in person, in ways that are traditional, new and joyful.”
The university plans to celebrate 2020 graduates in-person in the fall. William & Mary will host Commencement Weekend in Williamsburg during fall break, Oct. 9-11. Graduates and their families are invited to take part in the university’s cherished graduation traditions: ringing the Wren Bell, the candlelight ceremony, the walk across campus, formal exercises in full regalia and individual school/departmental ceremonies with faculty.
The decision to pivot to a virtual ceremony came after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced a “stay-at-home” order for Virginia, which runs through June 10. The order was in response to national public health projections that COVID-19 cases in the commonwealth may peak in late May.
“Formal Commencement exercises this year are merely postponed – we WILL come together on campus, in person to celebrate the Class of 2020, their resilience and their many accomplishments,” Rowe said in a message to the W&M community.
Until that day, the university is celebrating the achievements of its graduates at a distance, in a series of virtual events that will culminate on May 16.
Old traditions, new format
On Friday, May 1, graduates rang in the last day of classes in their own, unique way. The tradition holds that as each graduating student finishes their final class at William & Mary, they’re invited to ring the historic Wren Bell. This year, students couldn’t ring the Wren Bell, so they found alternatives: bicycle bells, dinner bells, cow bells – even a Taco Bell. They submitted dozens of videos ringing in the milestone moment, which were shared on W&M’s Commencement website.
The singing of the Alma Mater is a treasured W&M tradition. This year, Director of Choirs Jamie Armstrong conducted a virtual chorus nearly 300 voices strong, composed of current and former choral members, scattered across the globe.
“Individuals, families, couples, children, doctors, members of our military, alumni in banana suits, young and the young at heart all rallied to the cause, representing a range of W&M classes spanning more than half a century,” Armstrong said. “I am proud, but not at all surprised, that William & Mary could find a new way to share our Alma Mater that overcame the barriers of distance, time and a pandemic.”
A new tradition
This year, the Class of 2020 will initiate a new tradition of honoring those who supported them along the way. As the May 16 virtual Commencement date nears, all degree candidates are invited to write a message of gratitude — a note of thanks or appreciation to another member of the W&M community who has helped them to reach this moment of personal achievement.
“This spring semester has been challenging for members of our campus community and for our Class of 2020, in particular,” Rowe said. “Through it all, our sense of community is as strong as ever, and we have endured — even found ways to flourish — because this community has held us up.”
What to expect
The virtual conferral ceremony will feature remarks from Rowe, Gates, Agouris and the deans – as well as Erin Schwartz, graduate council president, and Cody Mills, undergraduate class president. There will be a presentation of university’s various Commencement awards followed by the conferral of degrees for all graduates of the Class of 2020 – undergraduate, graduate and professional. Tune in here at 10 a.m. EST on May 16.
After the virtual conferral ceremony, join your school and department ceremonies to continue the celebration. Find your school and department ceremony here.
Graduates are invited to share their favorite photos from their time at William & Mary by using the #wmGrad hashtag. The photos will be shared on a social wall as part of the virtual ceremony. Learn more about sharing photos.