Pomp in Unusual Circumstances

Masks and socially distant seating helped make UMW’s multiple-commencement approach a success. [Suzanne Carr Rossi ’00]

Like most everything else during the pandemic, commencement looked different this year. Instead of one ceremony on Ball Circle, UMW hosted nine ceremonies May 6 to 9 on the fenced campus recreation field adjacent to U.S. 1. 

The platform typically is packed with faculty, administrators, Board of Visitors members, and an honored speaker, but this year only seven people took the stage: President Troy D. Paino, Provost Nina Mikhalevsky, one student, one faculty member, a representative of the alumni association, a board member, and the official reader of names. 

There was plenty of pageantry despite the social distancing. Candidates processed to Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance recorded by the UMW Philharmonic Orchestra and recessed to the steady tones of one or two members of the Eagle Pipe Band. 

Each touch-free ceremony – no handshakes or exchange of diplomas – was limited to 150 graduates. The field’s 111,000 square feet were precisely measured and marked to accommodate graduates and their “pods” of well-wishers. 

The 1,200-member Class of 2021 participated in six ceremonies May 8 and 9. President Paino addressed every commencement gathering and stood by as each gowned and masked graduate walked across the platform. 

The 1,300 members of the Class of 2020, whose commencement was postponed last spring, were invited to return for three processions, May 6 and 7. Three hundred accepted. 

President Paino welcomed them back, telling them that it was one of the most emotional commencements he’d attended, including those of his daughters. 

He acknowledged all the difficulties that the pandemic had put the graduates through, and what their families and the members of the UMW community had done to help them. “This commencement, while unusual, will be among the most meaningful,” he said.

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