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Spring Commencements Harness Creativity


With safety the highest priority, Catholic colleges and universities capped an unusual academic year with celebrations that showed continuing resilience


Some took place virtually, while others were held in person. Some were held in open-air stadiums and others were indoors, with social distancing measures in place. No matter how spring commencement was celebrated, ACCU’s member institutions showed their ingenuity and commitment to community.

Following the first full academic year within the COVID-19 pandemic, many campuses celebrated graduates of both the Class of 2021 and the Class of 2020, which had its celebrations postponed last year. To accommodate crowds, commencements often took place over multiple days and sometimes in more than one location to allow for fewer people to gather at one time. Other universities relocated the festivities to an off-campus setting that offered more space for social distancing. Others were held in a fully virtual setting to ensure safety.

Among the more creative approaches was Molloy College, which held both a virtual and a drive-in commencement. For the in-person event, every graduate was allowed one car, where friends and families were asked to remain, watching the ceremony on large outdoor screens. 

Similarly, Saint Xavier University celebrated 2020 and 2021 graduates with a fully virtual event, as well as a special in-person Commencement Walk. The walk was a gathering that allowed graduates the experience of “crossing the stage” as their names were announced, congratulated by SXU officials.

ACCU extends its congratulations all the ACCU member institutions on their innovative, safety-minded approaches to this year’s commencements and, of course, to all new graduates!


We sincerely thank each of the ACCU member institutions that submitted photos for this feature. 


  • Gwynedd Mercy University kicked off Commencement Weekend with the annual Baccalaureate Mass for All, presided over by Archbishop Nelson J. Perez of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. During the homily, the Archbishop shared words of encouragement and advice for the Class of 2021 graduates.

  • Vice Chancellor of the University of Notre Dame Australia, Professor Francis Campbell, addressed the 2020-21 graduates in a series on virtual conferral ceremonies. The university sent special Graduation Packs to the graduates, which included included pop-out photo props, adding an element of fun to virtual conferral ceremonies. 

  • Students, wearing facemasks, prepare to receive their degrees at Rockhurst University’s 2021 commencement ceremony in Children’s Mercy Park.

  • All LaSalle University graduates from the Classes of 2020 and 2021, along with two guests, were invited to participate in an outdoor Baccalaureate Mass. Field and bleacher seating was set up in socially distanced pods of three for each graduate and their guests. 

  • In order to follow proper health and safety distancing guidelines, graduates covered most of the field at the University of Notre Dame's stadium during its commencement ceremony.

  • Anna Maria College erected a commencement tent that accommodated several on-campus ceremonies for both the Class of 2021 and the returning Class of 2020.

  • Saint Leo University President Jeffrey Senese welcomes graduates and their families to one of three commencement ceremonies held over two days at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa.

  • For the first time in its history, Ohio Dominican University held its spring commencement in its football stadium, which provided ample space for participants and allowed attendees to celebrate safely.

  • Separate ceremonies for each of Cabrini University’s four Schools — Business, Arts, and Media; Education; Humanities and Social Sciences; and Natural Sciences and Allied Health — were celebrated on one day and included limited seating capacity and mask-wearing requirements.

  • Because of the easing of restrictions at outdoor stadiums in New Jersey, Seton Hall University was able to hold in-person commencement for the Class of 2021 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ.

  • Molloy College hosted a drive-in commencement, allowing graduates' supporters to view the indoor ceremony safely from their cars.

  • Caldwell University's Baccalaureate Mass was celebrated on the Feast of Pentecost. Graduate and speaker Brittany Gaule used the occasion to note, “Just as the Holy Spirit came to each of the disciples, let us remember that God is guiding each of us on our path to serve and glorify Him in this world.”

  • Quincy University's two commencement ceremonies were held in Pepsi Arena, honoring the graduating Class of May 2021, which comprised 203 undergraduates and 27 recipients of master’s degrees.  

  • To allow for social distancing, St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas, celebrated several small, in-person commencement ceremonies. Each graduate who attended the ceremony received a limited number of guest tickets and the ceremonies were also livestreamed. Photo by Robin Jerstad.

  • Catholic Distance University celebrated its 2020 graduates by posting a PowerPoint presentation on the institution's website, celebrating graduates who opted to be featured. ​

  • Saint John's University graduates celebrated under sunny skies at Clemens Stadium on the Saint John’s campus. It marked the first time graduation ceremonies have been held on SJU’s football field since 1961.

  • Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Wichita, Most Rev. Carl A. Kemme photo bombs Newman University graduates prior to their commencement ceremony. Bishop Kemme was bestowed with the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.

  • Clarke University celebrated its commencement honoring the classes of 2020 and 2021 at the Five Flags Center in Dubuque, Iowa. Each graduate was allowed to bring four guests and the ceremony was also livestreamed.

  • Assumption College for Sisters conferred Associate in Arts degrees on nine graduates, one Associate in Religious Arts degree, and four certificates in Theological Studies. Attendees from the same household (which included most of the Sisters) were allowed to sit together. 

  • Saint Xavier University in Chicago held a special in-person Commencement Walk that allowed graduates the experience of “crossing the stage” as their names were announced, congratulated by SXU leadership, faculty, and staff.

  • The University of San Francisco celebrated spring graduates with virtual commencement ceremonies that were streamed on USF’s website, on YouTube, and on Facebook.

  • Following COVID-19 guidelines didn't interfere with Emmanuel College students personalizing their graduation caps and masks. 

  • Held at FedEx Field outside Washington, DC, the Catholic University of America’s commencement enabled students to sit in socially distanced seating directly on the football field where the Washington Football Team plays. Instead of a procession, the student’s names scrolled around the stadium scoreboard. Photo by Patrick G. Ryan, University Photographer.

  • At Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, NY, the Class of 2021 was recognized over the course of two ceremonies. In addition, the Class of 2020 enjoyed celebrations during its two ceremonies. Here, Emily Leath a 2020 College of Nursing grad, receives her nurse pin. Photo by Lee Ferris.

  • Celebrating in person, Sir Francis, the mascot of Neumann University, congratulated Kaitlyn Tracey and Carli Trice, who have volunteered for a year of service with the Jesuit Volunteer Corp and the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers.

  • During the Seattle University Law School virtual commencement ceremony, a graduate is celebrated onscreen.

  • Marymount University held three in-person, outdoor graduation ceremonies for each of its colleges, accommodating more than 620 graduating students.