University offers postponed alternative for virtual graduation

Graduating students can take pictures in front of the spirit rocks (Photo courtesy of Cinthya Parreno.


By August 2021, five semesters’ worth of UTD graduates – about 15,000 students – will have finished college primarily in an online format, compelling the university to offer an in-person alternative later in the summer.

The university began exploring alternative spring graduation options in February with a survey sent out to graduating students. Judy Barnes, senior director of university events, said this year’s ceremony format will be based on the university’s pandemic response guidelines.

“Our typical cycle is to start looking at responses earlier in the semester,” Barnes said. “Come this spring, it looked like we were still in a virtual situation. Commencement committee met, and we put into motion another ceremony that would be virtual.”

There are about 4,600 students who have applied to graduate in the summer of 2021. Student Government surveyed graduating seniors to determine what students would like enhanced for the virtual graduation ceremony in May. Barnes said that there will be modifications from the past virtual ceremonies to make graduation more interactive this semester.

 “One of the things that people wanted was photographs, to kind of show off regalia, etc. We are offering a series of photographs with our flash vendor who is going to come on campus,” Barnes said. “We are going to have three opportunities. Graduates can take pictures walking the stage, in front of the spirit rocks that we are going to have painted and we are setting up the UTD letters so that students can take pictures.”

The university also committed to holding in-person ceremonies this summer for virtual graduates who want to physically walk the stage to receive their diploma. Barnes said the graduation committee is not yet sure how many new degree holders plan to attend the make-up ceremonies. Opt-in invitations for the in-person ceremonies will be sent out at the end of April.

David Kim, a biology senior, says that he will be attending the virtual ceremony in May, but he hasn’t made a decision about the fall.

“The graduation effort is good,” Kim said. “It’s good to see that they actually care, but it also seems very procedural, which is honestly a bummer after enduring years of school.”

Barnes said that while the university is always looking at possible venue options, the plan is to hold the ceremonies at the Activity Center – which seats about 2,500 people – like in past years.

“It will be limited tickets to ensure safety there,” Barnes said. “We will be able to accommodate about 450-500 graduates in each of the school ceremonies. We have always done our ceremonies by school, but starting in the fall, we will be shifting towards a model used by other schools like UT Austin with a large commencement ceremony … and then all of the graduations will be led by the deans.”

Barnes says that the university is committed to celebrating all of its graduates and providing the most memorable experience possible.

“We made this promise to our graduates, and we want to deliver on it,” Barnes said.