UND will be one of only two schools in the North Dakota University System hosting a virtual commencement ceremony this spring.

The university, along with Bismarck State College, will be having a virtual ceremony to keep students, faculty and staff safe this spring. UND first announced its decision to hold a virtual ceremony earlier this semester.

In a weekly letter to the campus on Friday, Feb. 26, UND President Andrew Armacost noted that “a decision like this ultimately rests upon one member of the campus, and that is the president.”

Armacost said throughout the pandemic, the university’s top priority has been to minimize risk to students, faculty and staff, while offering an on-campus experience to students. He said it has been a “guiding principle” that is “essential for all of our spring semester activities, including commencement.” The prospect of widespread vaccinations this summer will naturally minimize the risk and allow the university to get back to “normal” for the fall semester, he said..

“Yet, we are not there yet,” he wrote. “In good conscience, I cannot approve an event that places a significant number of faculty and staff members and our students in a risky position. Further, I cannot risk holding an event that places family members of our graduates in such a position. We considered a graduates-only commencement, but quickly realized the necessary safety restrictions would make this an uninspiring event.”

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The university is working on plans to honor graduates individually at the end of the semester and will give students the chance to receive their diploma folder and cross the commencement stage while hearing their name announced. This will include a photo op, such as they would have at a typical commencement ceremony, one on-stage photo with the president and one posed photo as graduates leave the stage, Armacost said.

The university plans to record graduates crossing the stage and make the video available as part of the virtual commencement ceremony on May 15.

“This is not how we would like to celebrate,” Armacost wrote. “It is the right approach given the remaining uncertainty of the pandemic, and our commencement team is working hard to make this a special occasion.”

UND has held all of its commencement ceremonies virtually since last May.

Other schools

Most campuses have decided to host in-person events, but with limitations and other variations to their ceremonies. In addition to the virtual commencement ceremony at BSC, the college is hoping to host small, outdoor, program-specific celebrations on campus on Commencement Day.

Lake Region State College in Devils Lake will be inviting faculty, staff and students to attend its commencement ceremony, comprising 25% of the auditorium’s capacity. The event also will be live-streamed. The Adult Learning Center and Peace Officer programs will host a graduation following this format as well.

Mayville State noted that its decision to host an in-person ceremony could change depending on conditions moving forward.

Minot State says it is looking to take advantage of the Minot State Dome, which can hold up to 10,000 people, to aid in physical distancing for its in-person ceremony. The campus hopes to make a final decision in mid-March.

Williston State College is looking to announce its choice after spring break.

NDSU announced Friday, Feb. 26, that spring commencement ceremonies will be held May 15 at the Fargodome. Students will be allowed to invite four guests. Masks and other COVID-19 protocols will be followed. Additionally, students must RSVP for the ceremony; ticketing information for guests will be available at a later date.

Valley City State has stated it is leaning toward an in-person event.