The University of Michigan will conduct a virtual 2021 Spring Commencement due to ongoing health and safety concerns from the global COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to the universitywide May 1 ceremony, the Rackham Graduate Exercises and celebrations for most schools and colleges also will be conducted virtually. UM-Dearborn and UM-Flint will announce commencement plans later this semester.

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The announcement comes as the campus community continues to grapple with COVID-19 during a winter semester marked by more remote learning options, expanded COVID-19 testing and fewer undergraduate students living in campus housing. The university’s comprehensive plan for the term is aimed at curbing spread of the virus while continuing to meet its academic mission.

More recently, the Washtenaw County Health Department issued recommendations Jan. 27 asking enrolled U-M students living on or near the Ann Arbor campus to stay in place at their campus-area addresses, except under certain circumstances. The recommendations continue through Feb. 7.

“We very much wish that we could hold a safe commencement in Michigan Stadium, along with the many other celebration activities that are a fundamental part of our community life and traditions,” President Mark Schlissel said.

“Commencement is the most joyous event of the academic year for many in our community, as we celebrate the accomplishments of our graduates and draw inspiration from the achievements they will share with our world.”

The university is inviting graduating students and their families to experience this capstone occasion together at noon May 1. The program will contain the hallmarks of a traditional commencement ceremony — a commencement speaker, student performances and speakers and the conferring of degrees — and will be available thereafter for on-demand viewing.

University leaders said the ceremony will include synchronous content that allows the class to gather together at the same moment. Plans for the virtual commencement’s speaker will be announced later this semester.

Additionally, the university will offer all graduates from the classes of 2020 and 2021 the opportunity to participate in any future in-person commencement ceremony of their choosing and receive special recognition during the event.

The university also continues to consider options for inviting graduates from the classes of 2020 and 2021 back to campus for additional in-person events in the future. The spring 2020 in-person commencement exercises were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, although U-M and many schools, colleges and student groups organized virtual celebrations.

In a recent survey sent to students who will graduate in May and those who graduated in December, respondents expressed strong interest in having the opportunity to come back to U-M to take part in a future in-person graduation ceremony.

More than 70 percent of the respondents answered at least “moderately interested” in returning, with about a third answering “extremely interested.”

The same survey showed that students were interested in participating in a virtual ceremony if the university was “unable to host an in-person ceremony due to health and safety concerns.”

The university’s traditional commencement exercises inside the Big House include an annual audience of approximately 50,000 graduates, family members and university participants.

“This commencement will feel different than those in past years, but we have just as much to celebrate,” Provost Susan M. Collins said. “In fact, our graduating students have shown extraordinary resilience in overcoming challenges, meeting their academic goals and supporting one another. I look forward to this special day.”

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