BREAKING: Virtual commencement ceremony for winter graduates


Photo Courtesy of Oakland University

Students gather for a past in person commencement ceremony. This year Oakland University has taken an alternative approach with a drive-in commencement in the fall and, now, a virtual winter commencement.

Oakland University will host its first virtual commencement celebration for winter graduates — responding to winter weather and pandemic concerns — on Saturday, Dec. 19 at 10 a.m.

More than 2,400 students will be graduating in the winter. These students can expect similar components as a traditional ceremony: a series of pre recorded remarks from deans, provosts and President Ora Hirsch Pescovitz. Although the ceremony components haven’t been finalized, Administrative Associate Stephanie Lee assured with some creativity, it’ll be a “big splash.”

“We tried to have a little old school with a little new school — make sure it had flavor…” she said. “We’re trying to do something that the students would enjoy but also keep the collegiate component as well.”

For example, graduates will receive an “electronic gift” from the university. Lee described that graduates will receive a notification that will direct them to a filter with a virtual cap, gown and OU logo. 

There will be some more palpable elements of the celebration too — gowns, cords and diplomas. Graduating students received an email or text message on Monday, Nov. 10 with instructions to pick up their graduation elements. If anyone has any questions regarding this process, they can reach out to the Office of Student Involvement on the bottom floor of the Oakland Center. 

The celebration will be available through OUTV, the cable television extension of OU. Following its debut, the celebration can be rewatched too. 

Previously, the 2019-2020 commencement ceremony was shelved until the end of August when a drive-in format was decided upon. According to Lee, repeating the drive-in format included too many weather variables that may interfere with a projection screen. 

“Sometimes in December, it can be below zero… We just thought we would have folks on the inside for December in Michigan,” Lee said. 

Virtual settings are the safest during the pandemic. COVID-19 cases at OU have risen from roughly one case per day in October to roughly eight cases per day in November. Along with a virtual commencement ceremony, classes will be entirely online beginning Nov. 16 to lessen the recent rise, but that doesn’t mean in person events are entirely out of the picture yet, according to Lee. 

“Once our large events task force meets and goes over possibilities of events on campus, we’ll have a better understanding,” she said. 

Individual schools will also be hosting separate-personalized celebrations for their graduates. At the beginning of December, more details will be released on OU’s website about these celebrations and whether any in-person celebrations will be possible. 

In the spring, students may experience another drive-in ceremony, but those plans have not been finalized yet. Lee said OU will also eventually invite winter graduates participating in the virtual December ceremony back for an in-person celebration when it’s safe to gather again.

“It depends on the rising numbers of COVID-19… In order to honor our graduates, we’re just doing something that we know they would cherish a little bit, and then they have the option of coming back,” she said.