Commencement Guidelines


In Spring 2020, the University’s pivot to comply with Executive Orders issued by Governor Walz required a fully distanced and primarily centralized systemwide commencement effort. In January 2021, Executive Vice President and Provost Croson convened a subgroup of the Academic Scenarios Advisory Team to discuss commencement planning across the system. This subgroup included a student representative. Based on that subgroup’s discussion, it was decided in early February 2021 to return to decentralized commencement celebrations. This decision was communicated to deans, chancellors, and vice chancellors and Provost Office staff began working with relevant units across the University to gather the following information to guide unit planning.

Assumptions for Commencement Planning

  • Programs, colleges, campuses--as well as students--expressed the desire to return to the norms and traditions valued by their individual academic communities, and so the University will not organize a systemwide, central online commencement as we did last year.
  • Each campus, college/school, and program may plan their own ceremonies to best suit their populations and that are feasible given the state requirements.
  • Units may choose to organize virtual, in-person, or hybrid commencement ceremonies and related activities.
  • Any and all in-person components are subject to executive orders regarding large gatherings and Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) guidance. Note: MDH has convened a “Commencement, Summer Orientation and Summer Camp Planning” work group, with a formal report from this group expected at the end of February.
  • In-person events must also plan to conform with 6' physical distancing, masking requirements, and any other current University policies.
  • Receptions with food and drink cannot be part of the commencement program.
  • Units should be prepared to adjust plans in response to changes in University policy and in Executive Orders as of the date planned.
  • Units should also plan to live-stream or otherwise enable distant individuals to participate in any in-person events.
  • Units will need to submit their plans for approval using the Commencement Sunrise form (see below).


Commencement Sunrise Form

An invitation to complete the Commencement Sunrise Form was mailed to units on March 1, 2021. Each unit planning commencement celebration activities should identify someone to complete the form. Those completing the form should be prepared to provide the following information.

Name of Unit
Event Date
Event Point of Contact (name, email)

  1. Will the event be fully virtual, or will it have some in-person component?
  2. If virtual, what technology platform do you plan to use?

If your event is fully virtual, you may skip the remaining questions and complete your submission.

  1. If you planning an indoor event, what is the approximate event space capacity? If you are planning an outdoor event, what is the approximate square footage of the event space?
  2. Does the venue have an approved COVID-19 Preparedness plan?
  3. What is the approximate total number of graduates and faculty attending?
  4. Will you allow guests? If so, how many (in total)?
  5. How will you enforce physical distancing and face covering protocols?
  6. Will in-person attendees be documented and screened for symptoms and recent COVID-19 exposures? If so, how?
  7. Will there be space for “family unit” photographs, social time, etc.? If so, how will masking and distancing protocols be managed in this space?
  8. What mechanism will you use to manage occupancy, i.e. registration, fixed tickets, no guests, etc.
  9. Will individual units within your school or college be permitted to host “informal” graduation social events outside of commencement events? If so, what plans are in place to ensure all safety protocols are followed?
  10. How will you implement a contactless ceremony (e.g., name cards, diplomas, etc.)?
  11. What process will you use to assign graduates and guests to assigned seats?
  12. How will seats be filled to avoid crowding and maintain physical distancing issues?
  13. Have points of entry/exit to the space been identified and is pedestrian traffic designed to move in one direction only, avoiding bottlenecks and intersecting paths of travel?
  14. Will the venue have hand sanitizer available in ample locations?
  15. Are you able to provide maps or directions for restrooms and parking?

Additional Resources