Commencement 2021 update: We are planning a series of smaller in-person ceremonies; Plans are subject to change based on COVID-19 numbers and public health guidance

SUNY New Paltz is pleased to share that we intend to hold a series of smaller, shorter, in-person Commencement ceremonies for our 2021 graduates on May 14-16 and 2020 graduates on May 22-23. We are responding to student interest in an in-person experience to mark this milestone in their lives and recognize their hard-earned achievements.

To hold in-person ceremonies, we are unable to invite any guests to attend Commencement this year. We will livestream all ceremonies so that friends and family members can hear their graduate’s name called, watch them cross the stage and receive their diploma cover from the comfort and safety of home. The live streams will remain online and can be viewed on demand for one year after the event.

Other health and safety policies, such as masking and social distancing, will be in place.

Our plans follow extensive consultation between campus stakeholders and SUNY officials to ensure that our ceremonies are consistent with state and federal public health guidelines. We are also prepared to pivot to a fully virtual celebration if COVID-19 positive case numbers increase or state and local guidance restricts in-person events in mid-May. We are in contact with county health officials about our plans and will make adjustments as needed.

Students who are interested in participating must place their cap and gown orders by April 12 to ensure delivery in time for Commencement. Use this link to place your order with Herff Jones.

More details about our 2021 Commencement plans can be found below and will also be posted at

Details about our smaller, shorter ceremonies

President Donald P. Christian and Interim Provost Barbara Lyman will preside at each event and confer students’ degrees. Our smaller ceremonies will have a maximum of 200 participants at each (including graduates, faculty and staff support, and a much-reduced stage party), to meet state regulations and capacity limits for outdoor gatherings.

We will organize these ceremonies so that students graduate with peers in their majors and academic schools, to the extent possible. We anticipate that each ceremony will be roughly 30 minutes in length.

Faculty and staff will have an opportunity to participate by volunteering in safe, socially distant roles to staff the ceremonies. Guidance and sign-up information for faculty and staff marshals will be forthcoming.

There will be no hooding of master’s candidates, no handshaking and no processional or recessional this year.

Seats will be arranged on the Old Main Quad separated by at least six feet in all directions, and students will be directed to take their seats immediately upon arriving for their ceremony date and time.

Students will be called up to the stage in marked, socially distant rows, and faculty, staff and student marshals will help maintain distance. After receiving their diploma covers, students will be directed to exit the Quad and staff will support their safe departure along the way.

Additionally, every student eligible to graduate this May will have an opportunity to submit their name and photo for inclusion in a virtual Commencement slideshow. We will share more information about that process soon.

Two Commencement weekends: One for 2021 grads, and one for 2020 grads

We will hold ceremonies on the Old Main Quad, rain-or-shine on consecutive weekends. The first weekend (May 14-16, as originally scheduled in the Academic Calendar) will be a 2021 Commencement for May and August 2021 candidates, and December 2020 and January 2021 graduates.

The second weekend (May 22-23) will be for our December 2019, January 2020, May 2020 and August 2020 graduates who were unable to participate in an in-person ceremony last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

We will assign students and graduates to ceremonies based on their academic majors and schools, and will share those scheduling details soon. Students and graduates cannot switch their scheduled ceremony weekend or their assigned ceremony date and time.

To hold in-person ceremonies, we unfortunately cannot invite guests

We are unable to invite any guests, including our students’ family members​ and friends (whether they live on campus or off campus), to attend our Commencement ceremonies this year.

We recognize that this will be difficult for families that have waited years to celebrate their students’ accomplishments, but this is a necessary condition for us to offer an in-person experience while complying with state guidelines and ensuring community safety. Some other colleges and universities may have limited guests at their ceremonies; each campus’s circumstances are unique to their venues’ capacity for large, in-person gatherings.

Students: Interested in participating? Order your cap and gown as soon as you can!

We want to make sure that every student can get their cap and gown in time for the ceremony – but we need students to act fast!

Herff Jones has confirmed that all orders placed by this Monday, April 12, will be delivered in time for our first ceremony on May 14.

Use this link to place orders for your Commencement cap and gown.

We know this gives students limited time to get their orders in, so we encourage everyone to do so as soon as possible if you did not previously order caps and gowns following our March 9 update on Commencement planning.

Stay tuned for more information

More details about our plan for Commencement 2021 will be announced soon and published at We are also creating an FAQ page as a resource for students, faculty, staff and families.

Questions about our Commencement ceremonies should be sent to