For the first time in three years, UVA’s Final Exercises will return to relative normal on the Lawn.
In 2020, two months after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down in-person activities at the University, Final Exercises were conducted virtually. Last year the Classes of 2020 and 2021 had seven processionals down the Lawn from the Rotunda all the way to Scott Stadium on consecutive weekends. The Class of 2021 grads then received their degrees in socially distanced ceremonies in Scott Stadium.
This year, faculty members and graduates will participate in the Academic Procession on the Lawn in late May. Attendees will be encouraged, but not required, to be vaccinated. Masks will not be required for indoor or outdoor events.
According to UVA’s history of Final Exercises, the tradition dates to 1905, when Edwin A. Alderman—the University’s newly inaugurated first president who wished to inject more pomp and circumstance into the ceremonies—directed graduating students and faculty members to walk in full academic regalia from the newly rebuilt Rotunda to Cabell Hall.
Since 2015, separate degree ceremonies have been held for the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences on Saturday and for all other schools on Sunday. Graduates will be recognized individually at separate diploma ceremonies for their various schools.
“We are confident that these changes (to COVID policies) will permit this community to finish the academic year on a high note and to celebrate the achievements of the Class of 2022 safely,” Provost Ian Baucom and Executive Vice President/COO J.J. Davis wrote in an email announcing the plans. “As always, we are constantly monitoring local, national and global viral conditions and will make changes to our policies if they are necessary to keep people safe.”
In late March, University administrators dropped all remaining mask restrictions, citing low local COVID transmission rates. In April, there was some fluctuation in new cases among faculty, staff and students. The overall 7-day case average on April 1 was 5; on May 1 was 17.9.
This year’s relative normalcy comes after more chaotic events in 2021. Pamela Higgins (Col ’78), UVA’s executive director of major events, said that after a short-lived cancellation in March, the Office of Major Events had just six weeks to prepare a new program at Scott Stadium instead of the South Lawn. Seven ceremonies are needed to accommodate 7,500 graduates in the Class of 2021 and two more processionals for returnees from the Class of 2020.
Beth Meyer (Arch ’78, ’82), a professor in the School of Architecture, carried the University mace and led all seven Academic Processions as grand marshal from the Rotunda to Scott Stadium, wearing special orange tennis shoes for the marathon occasions. She’ll lead two processions down the Lawn this year.