Graduation ceremonies at Connecticut colleges were limited for 2 years. 2022 looks different.

After two years of pandemic-fueled changes, graduation ceremonies will look a bit more normal at Connecticut universities this month.

UConn returns to Gampel Pavilion and the Jorgensen Center this weekend, Yale students get to invite guests again, and Wesleyan holds its first full-scale commencement and reunion weekend since 2019.


Schools have been trying to bring back their traditional ceremonies ever since the devastating first wave of COVID-19 did away with nearly all in-person gatherings in the spring of 2020.

Lockdowns were lifted well before last May so the Class of 2021 generally fared a bit better. But pandemic restrictions still limited group sizes and led many schools to restrict guests, divide commencement into several sections or move it outdoors.


This month, though, most Connecticut universities and colleges are back to offering their traditional commencements with relatively minor changes. Students were predictably ecstatic when those decisions were announced earlier in the year, and they aren’t alone in welcoming back more normalcy.

“I’m as excited as I could be that we’re back in person,” said Professor Paul Gilson of UConn’s business school. “It will be fantastic, a great closure to the year.”

UConn’s 2020 commencement was all virtual, and last year’s was held at Rentschler Field to avoid crowds indoors at the usual Gampel and Jorgensen venues. Gilson is thrilled that the Storrs campus will be back to normal when UConn’s consecutive days of ceremonies begin Saturday.

“There’s something special about Mother’s Day — the campus will be busy, all the students in gowns are walking around,” said Gilson, who began teaching at UConn in 2000.

“My class roster has about 200 seniors, so this means a lot to me. You can walk around and get pictures with the students and their parents,” Gilson said. “You see the students for years, and they change a lot between 18 and 21 — seeing them graduate and meeting their parents completes that circle.”

At UConn’s College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, Associate Dean Sandra Bushmich is also looking forward to the weekend.

“This year the students will get the whole in-person experience. We have wonderful speakers, the faculty and staff will get to participate,” said Bushmich, who will be retiring this summer after 34 years at UConn.

“To be able to meet with some of the students and their families is so exciting and rewarding. It means so much to be able to see the students reach this milestone,” she said.


“A lot of our students are first-generation, and it’s especially exciting if it’s your child who is the first one to graduate,” Bushmich said. “I was first-generation myself. My parents thought if you didn’t go to the ceremony, you didn’t get the diploma. So I realized way back then how important ceremony is to people.”

Bushmich is comfortable with spacious Gampel as the venue, but she will wear a mask and is asking her school’s faculty and staff to wear masks, too.

“A lot of people will be together. I want us to be the example,” she said. “Some students, some faculty and staff aren’t coming because of COVID. You have to be respect of all the different opinions. It’s a difficult dance.”

The university said it is strongly encouraging everyone to mask up, and all ceremonies in the UConn Health departments will require masks.

At Yale, the 321st commencement will be May 23 at the Old Campus, and for the first time since the pandemic began, students are welcome to invite guests. And on May 14, Yale is inviting 2020 graduates to a commencement-style ceremony to make up for the one that was canceled that year, when the event was entirely online.

Yale notes that graduates and guests are required to be vaccinated and boosted.


Wesleyan’s commencement is May 22 at Andrus Field, part of its first in-person reunion and commencement weekend since 2019. Everything in 2020 was virtual, and the alumni reunion last year was online. Like Yale, Wesleyan requires graduates and guests at this year’s ceremony to be fully vaccinated.

For the second year, Central Connecticut State University will conduct its ceremony at Arute Field. Before the pandemic, commencement was done at the XL Center in Hartford, and last year’s ceremony was divided into four sections over a weekend — two on Saturday, two on Sunday — to reduce crowd sizes.

This year CCSU will hold just two ceremonies, both on May 14.

“In returning the event to campus last May, we realized how very special and meaningful it is to celebrate the culmination of our students’ hard work on our home turf,” according to a CCSU statement. “Arute Field also allows the university’s efforts to safely accommodate as many graduating students and their guests as possible.”

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Trinity College’s 196th commencement is May 22 at the Main Quad and should be fairly similar to the 2021 ceremony except for one significant change. Last year, commencement also included 2020 graduates whose ceremony had been postponed because of the emergency coronavirus restrictions.

Similarly, the University of Hartford anticipates its May 15 commencement at the XL Center will be pretty much back to normal. Last year, it hosted both the classes of 2020 and 2021 at the XL Center, and had to extend the ceremony over two days and across five separate sessions to accommodate social distancing and other COVID-10 precautions.


Connecticut College his hosting two commencements: The one on May 22 is for the Class of 2022, followed by another on June 12 as a makeup for the Class of 2020.

The University of New Haven’s commencement is May 15 at the Hartford HealthCare Amphitheater in Bridgeport. Last year, the school required all graduates and guests to provide either proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test result; this year’s protocol is a bit looser.

“Guests who are not fully vaccinated (including a booster dose, if eligible) are strongly encouraged to take a COVID-19 test within 72 hours prior to commencement,” UNH advises.

Quinnipiac University hosts ceremonies May 14 to 16 at the Mount Carmel campus quad, and the University of Saint Joseph’s commencement is set for May 14 at the XL Center.

Don Stacom can be reached at