CANTON — The Class of 2020 is returning to St. Lawrence University this weekend for last year’s lost celebration.
When extended spring breaks ended at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, most area college students were required to leave campus — at the time, for an unknowable term. Two months later, video acknowledgements replaced ceremony traditions.
The four Associated Colleges of the St. Lawrence Valley — SLU, Clarkson University, SUNY Potsdam and SUNY Canton — have honored 2020 graduates in different ways in the year since the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the cancelation of in-person commencement events.
SLU’s ceremony was scheduled for May 17, 2020, and that day, now retired President William L. Fox virtually addressed graduates as the Gunnison Memorial Chapel bells rang for the first time since the grounds were vacated.
“This is a day that none of us exactly planned, none of us imagined,” he said. “I certainly never dreamed of a day like this, that would otherwise serve as your commencement day. But it is the day we’ve been given.”
The Class of 2021 took part in a series of in-person ceremonies in April, though guests were not permitted. By May, the state updated its gathering directives for large-scale events, and plans started forming for a Class of 2020 commencement.
“We have agonized for the last year that your final months as a student were so difficult and disappointing,” SLU officials told 2020 graduates in June, announcing this month’s plan. “The unthinkable occurred in unimaginable ways. Your resilience and class solidarity are remarkable and lasting.”
The SLU campus festivities begin Friday for graduates and their registered guests. Meals are planned throughout Saturday before a 9:30 p.m. fireworks display, and the weekend culminates in a Sunday morning commencement ceremony at Newell Field House.
Graduates arriving for the weekend are expected to check in with the university at Appleton Arena and provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination, a positive coronavirus test result between May 1 and July 20, or a negative coronavirus test result from no earlier than Wednesday of this week.
The indoor Newell Field House venue was selected based on the latest state Department of Health guidance that took effect May 1. The guidance groups indoor and outdoor graduation ceremonies by anticipated size as small, medium or large. SLU’s largest outdoor venue, Leckonby Stadium, is smaller than Newell Field House and falls in the medium outdoor category, which is limited to a maximum of 500 attendees.
Some 500 graduates alone make up the Class of 2020, and each graduate is allowed to bring two guests to the ceremony. Newell Field House can house about 4,200 people but will be capped at 30% capacity, so the university is planning for a maximum of 1,260 attendees, including graduates, guests, faculty, staff and speakers.
The Saturday fireworks and Sunday ceremony will be live streamed on the SLU commencement website.