Socially Distanced Commencement

Ohio University hosted a socially distanced commencement outdoors at Peden Stadium. Photo by Ben Peters.

Ohio University on Friday hosted in-person commencement outdoors at Peden Stadium for spring 2021 graduates, marking the first event of its kind in Athens since 2019 and the only time a formal graduation ceremony has been held at the stadium.

It follows the postponement of commencement for spring 2020 graduates who were sent home upon the pandemic’s arrival and the entirely digital ceremony for fall 2020 graduates that streamed on YouTube in December amid the country’s most significant surge in COVID-19 cases to date.

Hundreds of master’s and doctoral graduates outfitted in regalia and face masks sat socially distanced Friday in folding chairs lined in a grid across the football field while their names were announced over a speaker and displayed on a large television screen. The event was also streamed online for those who may have felt uncomfortable sitting in a large crowd or couldn’t attend.

“Commencement is a momentous occasion for our students, and we are pleased that we were able to work with public health officials to offer in-person ceremonies to properly honor our Spring 2021 graduates,” university spokesperson Carly Leatherwood said in a statement.

“This is a historic occasion, not just because this is the first in-person commencement at OHIO since 2019, but also because it is the first time we have ever held a commencement ceremony at Peden Stadium."

Speaking at the event was Dr. Susan Williams, a professor of anatomy, along with Board of Trustees member Matt Evans, President Duane Nellis, Executive Vice President and Provost Elizabeth Sayrs, and Dean of the Graduate College Dr. Joseph Shields.

The stadium’s bleachers were full of masked, socially distanced groups of graduates’ families and friends, many of whom were thrilled to be at an in-person gathering that resembled normalcy. 

Penny Murray, the fully vaccinated mother of a graduate, said it was the first major event she’s attended since the beginning of the pandemic. 

“I’m very proud of him because this whole process has been very stressful and hard getting through the pandemic and going virtual and remote — he’s been alone a lot. So I’m glad that he’s persevered,” she said of her son.

Her husband, David, said he was also pleased with the event.

“It’s good to see a lot of people. Everybody is following protocols sitting apart, wearing masks and we’re happy to see that,” Mr. Murray said.

Undergraduate commencement is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday also outdoors at Peden. 

Spring 2020 graduates, whose semester was upended after many left campus in March of 2020, were asked to respond to a survey with their preferences for a future commencement ceremony, in which the class ultimately voted to postpone the ceremony until it’s deemed safe and legal to hold an in-person event. 

Their ceremony was rescheduled for Sept. 5, 2021 to align with Labor Day weekend and OU’s first football game of the season.

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