All the Pomp, Despite the Challenging Circumstance

In light of the current pandemic, Saint Louis University administration announced that changes will be made to the traditional graduation ceremony for the class of 2021. When the wrought-iron gates of campus creaked open for another school year this fall, no one could guess whether they would remain that way. As numbers fluctuated during the fall semester and the start of spring semester, the university scraped by, remaining mostly in-person for their students and staff.

As vaccine rollout is steadily underway and St. Louis cases are hitting new lows, it became evident that an in-person graduation may be a reality.

Current seniors worried that SLU administration might institute a repeat of last year’s graduation, with no formal event in-person or virtually to celebrate the graduates. Instead, the President’s office, the Provost’s team and a group of Student Government Association (SGA) representatives worked for months to plan an in-person pre-commencement and virtual graduation ceremony.

SLU will host up to 17 pre-commencement ceremonies during the week of May 17. Certain colleges may host multiple ceremonies, depending on the number of graduates. Each ceremony will be limited to 250 guests, with two guests allowed for each graduate, and will last for about 90 minutes each.

The official graduation ceremony will be released Sunday, May 23 at 2 p.m., and will include a pre-recorded statement from SLU president Fred Pestello, Ph.D., and the awarding of honorary degrees.

However, the decision to implement these ceremonies didn’t come easily. “Initially, given the state of the pandemic in early February, we were planning for virtual pre-commencements and a virtual commencement ceremony,” said Matt Davis, the Provost’s Chief of Staff.

Once cases began to decrease in late February, a group of students led by SGA president Joseph Reznikov communicated with Pestello and newly appointed provost Michael Lewis, Ph.D., that an in-person ceremony could become a reality. All three groups worked in conjunction to create a proposal to submit to the City of St. Louis Department of Health.

The students on the planning committee “indicated a desire to celebrate with their peers and have the opportunity to have their names called,” Davis said.

Given it gathers smaller crowds, pre-commencement seemed to be the best option for an in-person ceremony. Per the City of St. Louis Department of Health guidelines, hosting an in-person graduation ceremony for all graduates and their guests in their typical venue, Chaifetz Arena, was not an option.

When registering for pre-commencement, graduates were surprised to answer questions about their guests’ COVID-19 vaccination history. Davis stated that this question was added in compliance with their COVID-19 safety plan with the Department of Health. Should it be needed, the responses to this question will be helpful for contact tracing purposes, he said.

Davis also assures that these plans were made with students in mind.

“Our goal was to give students the best opportunity possible to celebrate their accomplishments. Our students have worked so hard to get here,” he said.

While undergraduate, graduate or professional students are embarking onto a world full of unknowns, one thing is assured—the accomplishments made among years at Saint Louis University will be celebrated come May.

“We are proud of what they have achieved in such difficult circumstances in an unprecedented year,” Davis said.