As seniors begin their last semester at Elon University, there is still some uncertainty regarding whether there will be an in-person commencement ceremony this spring for the class of 2021. Though a final decision has still not been made, there is now more clarity on what the possibilities for this spring are. 

The school has announced three potential formats for commencement: a fully virtual option with no in-person gatherings, an in-person ceremony with a limited number of guests that would be live-streamed and an in-person ceremony for students only that would be live-streamed for all others. A final decision for the format is expected to be announced no later than March 26.

Daniel J. Watts '04 an actor and Broadway star was selected to be the 2021 commencement speaker.

Watts' selection leaves some performing arts students thinking the university could do more to support them during their undergraduate years.

Jeff Stein, the chair of the Ready & Resilient Committee, said the school decided upon these three potential formats to be prepared for both the best and worst case scenarios related to the virus and to best meet the desires of the students. 

“Students have expressed to us how important an in-person ceremony with friends, family and staff is, so that had to be in the mix, but if conditions require us to go virtual, we need to be ready to do so,” Stein said. “We also tried to find a middle ground between those two extremes in which some people could attend in-person, which is how we landed on the third option.” 

Jessica Flacksenburg, class of 2021 president, has been working closely with members of Elon’s senior staff in considering the potential commencement options. Along with other class officers, she has been relaying the thoughts of students regarding having an in-person ceremony.

“It has been a very cooperative process and they are keeping us very updated, which has been great,” Flacksenburg said. “Unfortunately, it is not a situation either party can really control because it is seemingly always changing.” 

According to Stein, the school is following the protocols implemented by the state of North Carolina — that limit gatherings and discourage unnecessary travel — in the decision-making process, among other factors, such as local and state infection numbers and vaccination rates. 

“We are going to be watching campus conditions related to the virus, county and state conditions related to the virus, as well as vaccination progress and the variants of virus strands throughout the process,” Stein said. 

While Flacksenburg would like to have an in-person ceremony with guests, her first priority is the safety of the potential attendees. 

“We want everybody to be safe and healthy, and as much as we all want to have people attend in person, we do not want anybody to get sick,” Flacksenburg said. “I care much more about the safety and health of everybody than having my family there.”

Additionally, Stein added that the school is in communication with the class of 2020 officers with the hopes of organizing an in-person ceremony for their cohort this spring. A final decision regarding plans for the class of 2020 is also expected to be made no later than March 26.

“They have made it clear having an in-person ceremony is a priority,” Stein said. “What that ceremony would look like really depends on what they want, and we are working with them to meet their needs.” 

"We want everybody to be safe and healthy, and as much as we all want to have people attend in person, we do not want anybody to get sick.I care much more about the safety and health of everybody than having my family there."

Jessica Flacksenburg

Class of 2021 President

Stein believes it is important to properly recognize both classes and is hopeful that safe and appropriate celebrations can be held this spring.  

“Their achievements need to be celebrated and we are going to try to do whatever we can to make sure we have celebrations that live up to their great accomplishments,” Stein said. 

The recent announcement of the possible formats was a relief for Flacksenburg, as plans regarding graduation for the class of 2021 have been uncertain since the COVID-19 pandemic began last spring.   

“Prior to the announcement, we had no idea what was going to happen, so I am glad we have some solid options to look at now,” Flacksenburg said. 

Flacksenburg is urging all students and family members in the class of 2021 to be patient with the process and promises that any and all updates associated with commencement will be communicated promptly. 

“I know it is a frustrating situation not knowing whether or not we will be having an in-person graduation, but it is really important to bear with us,” Flacksenburg said. “Any information that I receive regarding graduation is going to go directly to the senior class and their families.”