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How Duke’s peer institutions are handling their graduation ceremonies

<p>Students celebrate at Duke's commencement ceremony in 2019.</p>

Students celebrate at Duke's commencement ceremony in 2019.

As Duke’s commencement approaches—with more students invited than initially planned—the University’s peer institutions are taking a variety of approaches to their graduation ceremonies.

Duke will invite all seniors, including early graduates and remote students, to return to campus for their commencement ceremony in May. President Vincent Price announced the change in a Wednesday email, citing recent public health trends and the availability of vaccines.

Until the recent change, Duke planned to limit attendance only to seniors who have been “regular participants” in the campus testing program. This decision frustrated and saddened some early graduates who planned on returning to celebrate the end of their Duke careers in person with their friends. Duke does not currently plan to allow guests, including family, at its ceremony. 

Some of Duke’s peer institutions are letting students invite friends and family to watch them graduate in person. Most of the schools are, like Duke, allowing early graduates and remote students to return for in-person ceremonies. 

Out of 20 of Duke’s peer institutions, 11 of the schools intend to host in-person graduations, while the other nine will be fully online. Five of those 11 schools will allow students to invite two guests. The University of Pennsylvania is the only school that will not allow remote students and winter graduates to return to campus for the in-person ceremony.

Brown stands out as one peer institution with a plan for how to safely bring back remote students and early graduates. Graduates who want to return to campus for the in-person ceremony must participate in the campus testing program for at least 10 days before commencement, regardless of their vaccination status. With commencement weekend planned for April 30 through May 2, this means students need to return to campus and enter the testing program prior to April 21. Guests will not be invited.


Maya Miller


Notre Dame will require returning remote students to provide proof of vaccination and test negative for COVID-19 if they plan to attend the ceremony in person. The university is also strongly encouraging all guests to get fully vaccinated before arriving for graduation.

Other schools, such as Vanderbilt University and Washington University in St. Louis, are asking travelers to self-isolate for 14 days before arriving on campus and to complete a self-screening upon arrival. They also implore students and guests to abide by their schools’ COVID-19 guidelines, such as wearing masks and social distancing. 

In addition to inviting remote students and early graduates to return to campus, schools like Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, Washington University in St. Louis, UNC Chapel Hill and Wake Forest will allow seniors to invite up to two guests each.

Conversely, Yale, Dartmouth, Brown and Rice will require family and friends to watch online. Princeton has not yet decided whether it will allow out-of-area students to return to campus for commencement. 

The nine schools hosting online-only ceremonies are Columbia, Georgetown, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Cornell, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Chicago, Stanford, and Northwestern.

Unlike Duke, a few of the schools are planning in-person commencements for the class of 2020. Washington University in St. Louis will hold their 2020 ceremony 10 days after the 2021 commencement. Vanderbilt will bring back 2020 graduates 15 days before the class of 2021 festivities. Rice plans to celebrate both classes on back-to-back days in mid-May.

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