The University of Arkansas at Fort Smith will once again have in-person commencement ceremonies in May. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, graduation will be different than in years past, but the ability to have in-person commencement helps keep a promise UAFS Chancellor Dr. Terisa Riley made to students in spring 2020.
“One of the many disappointments of 2020 was our inability to honor graduates at an in-person commencement ceremony,” Riley said. “I promised our 2020 graduates that when it was safe to do so, we would welcome them back to campus to walk across the stage at the Gayle Kaundart arena at the Stubblefield Center and celebrate their accomplishments with us. We are so grateful that day has finally arrived.”
Ceremonies will be conducted over four days to honor graduates from the current semester and those from spring, summer, and fall of 2020 who were unable to participate in a traditional ceremony.
Ceremonies for 2020 graduates are planned for 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. May 1, though final times and the number of ceremonies will be determined by the number of graduates who register to attend, a UAFS news release said. Additional ceremonies may be added for April 30 and May 2 if necessary.
Each of the university’s five colleges will have a unique ceremony for spring and summer 2021 graduates. Those are planned for:
• 7 p.m. May 7 for the College of Health Science;
• 10 a.m. May 8 for College of Applied Science and Technology;
• 6 p.m. May 8 for College of Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics; and
• 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. May 9 for College of Communication, Languages, Arts and Social Sciences.
Each ceremony will be no more than one hour long, and all will be live-streamed on the UAFS YouTube channel. The commencement program booklet will be available in a digital format rather than a printed version. All commencement ceremonies will follow protocols set forth by the Arkansas Department of Health. Strict guidelines will be enforced to ensure the safety and well-being of all participants. Each ceremony will be limited to 140 graduates, who will check in 30 minutes before the ceremony’s start time and proceed to their seat on the arena floor. There will not be a traditional processional.
Each graduate will receive up to four guest tickets, which must be presented to enter the Stubblefield Center. Guest seating will be grouped in four-seat sections with each group six-feet from others. Children under the age of 2 will be allowed without a ticket if they are not using their own seats.
All those attending the ceremonies, including students, staff and guests, will be required to wear face masks and maintain social distance. Temperatures will be taken prior to entry. Anyone who has a positive COVID-19 test at the time of the ceremony, is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, or has been identified as a close contact of an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19 should not attend.
“This is a tremendous effort on the part of the university, but we know that graduation days are among the very best days of the year for our entire campus. We have missed these milestone celebrations and are thrilled to show our graduates from 2020 and 2021 how valued they are and how impressed we are with their resiliency,” Riley said.
There were 675 graduates in spring 2020, 113 in summer 2020 and 388 in fall 2020. Rachel Rodemann Putman, UAFS associate director for strategic communications, said 98.5% of those degrees have been awarded with a few outstanding waiting for transcripts, finishing work for an incomplete grade, etc. There 707 eligible for graduation this spring, including eight master’s degree candidates, 545 bachelor’s degree candidates, 131 associate degree candidates and 23 technical certificates.