UArizona Plans for In-Person Commencement Ceremonies, Fall Classes

Jaesa Strong, a senior graduating with a degree in pharmacy, poses with the university's ceremonial mace during filming for the virtual 2020 Commencement.

Jaesa Strong, a 2020 pharmacy graduate, poses with the university's ceremonial mace during filming for the virtual 2020 Commencement.

(Photo: Chris Richards/University of Arizona)

The University of Arizona plans to celebrate graduates with a series of in-person ceremonies in May, President Robert C. Robbins announced Monday.

He also said the university plans to offer most classes fully in person in the fall 2021 semester, which starts Aug. 23. 

The in-person Commencement ceremonies, tentatively scheduled to take place between May 11 and May 18 at Arizona Stadium, would be smaller than the typical university-wide Commencement ceremony, with only about 1,000 students per ceremony, Robbins said. As currently envisioned, the ceremonies will include students only and will be streamed live and recorded to allow family and friends to participate remotely, he said.

"This past year has obviously been very, very challenging, and I know that it's had a significant impact on the senior year of this graduating class," Robbins said. "We're all looking forward to coming together, in a different but memorable way, to celebrate the academic achievements of the class of 2021."

In-person participation will be optional, and regular updates will be provided on the university's Commencement website, Robbins said.

"As we move forward with these plans, the health of our faculty, staff and students is our top priority – always has been, always will be," he said. "We've been in regular contact with Pima County health officials throughout the planning process, and we will continue to rely on their expertise so that any events reflect local, state and national public health guidelines."

Robbins credited the university's Test, Trace, Treat protocol – which includes regular testing, contact tracing and isolation beds for infected students – with minimizing the spread of the virus on campus. From March 1 to March 6, the university administered 11,242 COVID-19 tests, with 29 positives – a positivity rate of 0.26%. Testing numbers are regularly updated on the university's COVID-19 website.

The Test, Trace, Treat measures, combined with the vaccination efforts underway on the UArizona campus, should also allow the university to return to mostly in-person classes in the fall, Robbins said.

"We plan to return most courses at the main campus to fully in-person formats, with some courses offered as flex in-person as appropriate for public health needs," Robbins said. "Live online and iCourse options will remain available for students who need or wish to continue to learn remotely."

The university is currently in Stage 2 of its reentry plan, with classes of fewer than 50 students permitted to meet in person.

Robbins said he anticipates all faculty and staff will be able to get vaccinated this spring and said he is committed to "ensuring students can be vaccinated swiftly, as soon as they are eligible."

By the end of Monday, the university vaccination POD, or point of distribution, will have administered more than 50,000 doses of vaccine, Robbins said. Vaccination numbers are regularly updated on the university's COVID-19 website.

Those eligible for vaccination in Phase 1A or Priority 1B of the state's vaccination plan can register for appointments through the Arizona Department of Health Services website. Those needing assistance can call 602-542-1000.