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Carleton to hold closed in-person commencement ceremony

When students were sent home in March of 2020, Carleton had to make the tough decision to hold the commencement ceremony for the Class of 2020 online. Faced with the same decision one year later, Carleton announced in February that this year’s Commencement—currently scheduled for Saturday, June 12, 2021—will be a traditional one with restricted attendance.  

“So long as in-person classes are in session at the end of Spring Term, we plan to have an in-person outdoor commencement ceremony for our graduates,” wrote Dean of Students Carolyn Livingston and Director of Events Kerry Raadt in an email to seniors on January 19. “What we don’t know at this time is whether we will be able to invite families and loved ones to attend.”  

 According to Livington and Raadt, “Our ability to reopen campus to visitors is dependent on a number of factors, including rates of COVID-19 cases in the community, the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine nationally, and state rules regarding events.”  

After a period of deliberation over how to make the event as safe as possible, the college notified students on February 26 that graduation attendance would be restricted

“To keep the event safe for everyone, parents and families will unfortunately not be allowed to attend,” Livingston said. This is consistent with neighboring college St. Olaf’s commencement policy for 2021

Dani Rader ’21 said she approves of the school’s decision. “Based on what happened last year, I got pretty used to the idea that we wouldn’t have an in-person graduation ceremony,” said Rader. “If excluding families is what we have to do to be able to have it in person, then I fully support that.”

 After seeking the guidance of public health experts, the college decided that seniors studying off campus this spring will be able to return to Carleton and participate in Commencement if they arrive with adequate time to quarantine and participate in campus testing protocols. For those who cannot attend, the ceremony will be livestreamed and recorded.

Axel Ohrstrom ’21 is currently studying off campus. “I just thought it would be easier to avoid getting COVID by staying home, traveling less and seeing fewer people,” said Ohrstrom. “That said, having been off-campus since the beginning of the pandemic has created some distance between the friends I made on campus and my day-to-day life. I will be coming back for commencement because it is a chance to see my friends and celebrate our accomplishments together.” 

More students both on and off campus, as well as their families, are getting vaccinated against COVID-19. According to Ohrstrom, “already having gotten the vaccine made the decision to return to campus a lot easier for me. But depending on the required quarantine, it may be more difficult for me to attend.”  

The college has yet to specify whether the increasing availability of COVID-19 vaccines will affect the restrictions on attending or the qualifications for participating in the ceremony. Citing the threat of more contagious variants of the virus and inequitable access to the vaccine worldwide, Livingston and Raadt wrote on April 9 that “it is too early for us to make any changes at this time.”  

If commencement plans are reevaluated, Livingston and Raadt expect to be able to communicate that to students by May 7.

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