Convocation 2021

February 1, 2021

To: Members of the University Community
From: Robert J. Zimmer, President, and Ka Yee C. Lee, Provost
Subject: Convocation 2021
Date: February 1, 2021

As a community, the University of Chicago has worked collectively to support the safety of our faculty, students, and staff, and to participate responsibly in the effort to address the spread of COVID-19. Now, even with the prospect of increased vaccine availability, vigilance remains necessary to maintain the low levels of infection we have seen at the University. Informed by the epidemiology expertise at University of Chicago Medicine, and in accordance with federal, state, and city agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), we are preparing plans for Convocation 2021.

The 534th Convocation ceremony, during which degrees are officially conferred to all graduates of 2021, will be held virtually. Given the current guidance from the CDC, other public health officials, and our own faculty and physicians working on the forefront of the COVID-19 response, it is not practical or safe to proceed with planning an in-person gathering of several thousand people.

As for diploma ceremonies, which are the dedicated events during which each school and division distributes diplomas to its graduates, we believe it is possible to reduce the scale of each ceremony that will allow a limited in-person event. The smaller scale will allow us to maximize health and safety mitigations and closely monitor compliance with required protocols for social distancing. Consultation with our experts at the University of Chicago Medicine has emphasized that the safety of any in-person gathering will depend on our ability to manage the density of attendees at our outdoor locations. Therefore, these diploma ceremonies must be for our graduates and participating faculty and staff only. Families and guests will be able to view the diploma ceremonies virtually rather than in person. We strongly discourage families and guests from traveling to campus as we will be unable to accommodate their presence at the diploma ceremonies. Additionally, our ability to hold any in-person gatherings will depend on the state of the virus and public health guidance at the time.

We recognize that participation in Convocation ceremonies is, for many, a special experience, enjoyed with the whole University and in the company of one’s friends, family, and classmates. We recognize, also, that this is not the Convocation experience we had hoped for our Class of 2021. Our plan is intended to provide as much of the distinctive Convocation experience as is safe to contemplate given the uncertainty of the months ahead. The University will continue to evaluate public health conditions and we will explore ways to involve 2020 and 2021 graduates in the University Convocation ceremony in the future, when we are able to plan for an in-person ceremony.

Students and faculty will hear from their deans and deans of students as plans for diploma ceremonies develop. The convocation site will be updated regularly as new information becomes available, and graduates and their family members may email with immediate questions.

Since 1893, the University’s convocation has brought together all elements of the University community: degree candidates and their families, alumni, friends, faculty, staff members, deans, officers and trustees of the University, the provost, and the president. Demonstrating admirable resilience, our community continues to manage through an unprecedented situation, and face challenges none of us expected. The decisions we make now are not optimal, but they are necessary when considering our responsibility to one another and to the broader communities of which we are a part.

We remain confident that we will find appropriate ways as a University community to celebrate the Class of 2021 that are both singular and enduring.

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