From Athens to Atlanta and throughout the state, college students this month celebrated not just graduation, but the end of a tumultuous era in education history.
After the coronavirus forced graduation ceremonies online last year, members of the class of 2021 worried whether their graduations would be in-person or online. Most of Georgia’s larger college commencements this year will be in-person – both indoors and outside. And to make up for their missed graduations during the 2020 pandemic, some members of the previous year’s graduating class returned for this year’s commemorations.
University of Georgia
Earlier this month, students from the University of Georgia filed into Sanford Stadium, the school’s football stadium, with socially distanced seating for graduations May 13-15. Students were able to bring an unlimited number of guests to the events. Like for many schools, the commencement announcement came after an updated executive order from Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, which allowed for expanded outdoor events. Before the order, UGA had limited graduation tickets to three guests.
While social distancing and masks were encouraged during the ceremonies, it wasn’t officially required or enforced.
Among the guest speakers, Greg Blue-stein, a Jewish political reporter at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, delivered a convocation address May 13 to the graduates of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.
Emory shifted its graduation ceremony to in-person this year at the Georgia World Congress Center to accommodate the crowd, while still requiring social distancing, according to a release by Suzanne Eden-Antola, executive director of university events. “We are excited to be able to offer students the opportunity to finally gather in person as a class and have a good, safe experience.”
Emory’s celebrations began May 13 with a student-organized Class Day celebration. Georgia’s Jewish Sen. Jon Ossoff spoke to students at the celebration ahead of the official commencement celebrations May 14. Unlike UGA, Emory only allowed two guests per graduate and required masks in addition to social distancing. The ceremonies included a speech by Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the country’s lead health adviser during the pandemic.
Georgia Institute of Technology
Georgia Tech held in-person ceremonies in December, inviting all 2020 graduates to return for the graduation, and continued that pattern this year. Ceremonies were held at Bobby Dodd Stadium May 7-8 with an unlimited number of guests allowed for those graduating. Students and guests were required to wear masks during the ceremonies, at which Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey was the guest speaker. The spring graduating class of 2021 included over 4,430 students, including master’s and doctoral students.
Georgia Southern University
Unlike other college graduations, Georgia Southern had a distinct way of honoring graduates with face-to-face events, either at the Armstrong campus in the Savannah Convention Center May 8 or the Allen E. Paulson Stadium in Statesboro May 10-13. The university planned six commencements in which students had the option to pick the day and location they desired, along with guests to accompany them.
Aileen Dowell, the dean of students, said students were able to walk across the stage and accept their diplomas but when seated, COVID-19 guidelines required students and guests to remain 6 feet apart. Inside the Savannah Convention Center, students and guests were required to wear masks, but not at the Statesboro outdoor location.
Georgia State University
Georgia State University required all in attendance at graduations at Center Parc Stadium May 5-13 to wear masks, and students stood up at their seats upon recognition from the stage. To further honor the students, an image of the graduate and a quote appeared on the jumbotron as each name was read. Each student was allotted four tickets for family or friends and seats were positioned the standard 6 feet apart.
Regardless of whether inside or outdoors, masked or not, returning or new graduates, for many it was a welcome surprise to be recognized for their achievement in a traditional setting, an experience they weren’t sure they’d have six months ago.
- Stephanie Nissani
- Nathan Posner
- University of Georgia
- Georgia Institute of Technology
- Georgia Southern University
- Georgia state university
- Sanford Stadium
- Georgia Governor Brian P. Kemp
- Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication
- Greg Blue-stein
- Senator Jon Ossoff
- Suzanne Eden-Antola
- Georgia World Congress Center
- Dr. Anthony Fauci
- National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
- Bobby Dodd Stadium
- James Quincey
- Aileen Dowell