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A Breath of Fresh Air at Commencement

Outdoor and In-Person Graduation Ceremonies to Honor 8,500+ Students for Achievements in Trying Times

By Liam Farrell

Close-up of graduating student's hand on Testudo statue

Photo by Kolin Behrens

Spring 2020 and Winter 2020 graduates, who had virtual ceremonies during the pandemic, have been invited to attend this week's in-person, outdoor Commencement celebration.

After more than a year of social distancing, COVID-19 testing and, in many cases, virtual schooling amid the pandemic, a glimpse of “normal” college life will return this week as the more than 8,500 members of the Spring 2021 graduating class are honored with in-person, outdoor commencement ceremonies.

Two events are scheduled Friday at Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium, divided based on school and college, with attendees required to wear face coverings and seated in households of three to meet safety protocols. (Graduates can bring two guests.) Both celebrations—the first outdoor commencement ceremonies in 66 years—will be streamed online and recorded.

Spring 2020 and Winter 2020 graduates, who had only virtual ceremonies, have been invited to attend as well.

“It is inspiring to see how our students have persevered through even the most challenging of times,” said UMD President Darryll J. Pines when announcing the in-person plans. “We recognize the significance of an in-person event to celebrate our graduates’ proud achievements, and we are happy to be able to offer this option with health and safety top of mind.”

The ceremonies—which will take place rain or shine—will include in-person elements such as the procession of senior marshals, finalists for the University Medal, deans and vice presidents, along with a performance of the national anthem by Öznur Tülüoğlu ’21. Live speakers will include Pines and Hannah Rhee ’21, a computer science major who plans to do volunteer work after graduating and eventually become a high school teacher.

Peter Chapman headshotA message will be broadcast from Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, and the main, pre-recorded address will be delivered by Peter Chapman, president and CEO of IonQ, a leading quantum computing company founded partly on UMD research and headquartered in the nearby Discovery District.

Before coming to IonQ in 2019, Chapman was a director of engineering for Amazon Prime, managing hundreds of engineers to ensure speedy delivery, including Amazon’s two-days-or-less shipping option. The son of a NASA scientist-astronaut, Chapman began his career at age 16 in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Artificial Intelligence Lab and has had numerous accomplishments in the financial and technology sectors, from inventing the first sheet music-reading synthesizer capable of recreating orchestral instruments to software breakthroughs that protect mutual funds, power e-readers and assist the blind in reading. 

“All of us at IonQ are very proud to call UMD home, just as I am very proud to share this important moment with the Class of 2021,” Chapman said. “Now more than ever, these young people represent our shared faith in a better future, driven by bold thinking right here in Maryland. I hope only to inspire them, the next generation of builders, as they have already inspired me.”

Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Strategic Communications for the University of Maryland community weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.