April 27, 2021


Commencement Celebrations Like No Other

The COVID-19 pandemic affected nearly every aspect of the collegiate experience – including commencement. DePaul wanted to ensure the Class of 2021 had the opportunity to participate in the time-honored tradition – even if it looked different than a typical year. So, the university planned Graduation Celebration, a 10-day outdoor, interactive commencement experience. DePaul’s interim provost, Salma Ghanem, shares more about all of the university’s commencement plans for the Class of 2021.



​LINDA BLAKLEY: Welcome to DePaul Download. I'm your host, Linda Blakley, vice president of University Marketing and Communications.

This academic year has been like no other and to celebrate the Class of 2021's many accomplishments, from completing coursework, participating in student led organizations, sharpening professional skillsets, and serving the Chicago community, DePaul is planning a celebration like no other.

To talk about the university's plans to honor the graduates before they embark on the next chapter of their lives is DePaul's interim provost Salma Ghanem.

Salma, welcome back to DePaul Download.

SALMA GHANEM: Thank you, Linda. It's great to be here.

LINDA BLAKLEY: So, let's get right to it. What does DePaul have planned to honor the Class of 2021?

SALMA GHANEM: Well, Linda, we have a lot on the agenda for the Class of 2021.

This year we will host virtual ceremonies on May 22 for the College of Law and June 12 for the other colleges. We're going to ship each student or each graduate, I'm sorry, a commencement kit filled with DePaul themed items. And we're going to launch a very unique on campus celebratory event in May called Graduation Celebration.

LINDA BLAKLEY: So, why did the university decide to go with virtual ceremonies rather than in-person ones? What considerations went into that decision?

SALMA GHANEM: First off, Linda, I really want the Class of 2021 to know that the commencement planning team considered every possible option when it came to this year's commencement. They brainstormed and researched many different options while also keeping a very close eye on the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the city's restrictions.

To give you a little bit of a background, in a traditional year, we host nearly 3,500 people in the Chicago Theater for the College of Law ceremony and nearly 55,000 people in the Wintrust Arena for all other colleges.

The likelihood that we would be able to host something at that scale this year and be safe was really very small. And it's also very difficult to prepare for the unknown because the pandemic is ever changing. Sometimes day by day. We felt that planning online ceremonies along with on campus events which we are calling Graduation Celebration would be the best and the most equitable option for the entire DePaul community.

LINDA BLAKLEY: Okay. So, let's talk about the on-campus events, Graduation Celebration. Exactly what is it?

SALMA GHANEM: Well, Linda, we're really very excited about that. We announced the event to the DePaul community earlier this month and this is the first time we're ever doing something quite like this for commencement.

So, basically, what we're doing is we're inviting graduates to come back to the Lincoln Park campus ahead of their graduation for one more celebration. It will be ticketed. It will be outdoors, so a lot safer, with a limited number of guests, and it will take place May 19 through May 28. Graduates can register for the event on the commencement website.

Each one of the graduates will have two guests and will have the chance to engage with a variety of DePaul-themed photo ops and interactive experiences. They will be able to sign the Class of 2021 reflection wall and even walk through the Graduation Experience Canopy.

The one thing that I'm personally really, really excited about is going to take place each evening at dusk over the 10-day celebration. The Lincoln Park Quad will be decoratively illuminated for people to walk through and take photos. For anybody who knows me, they know how much I love lights.

LINDA BLAKLEY: So, you just mentioned the Graduation Experience Canopy. What is that?

SALMA GHANEM: Well, this is an activity that I think graduates will really be excited about.

Inside of the canopy, they can walk across a graduation stage very similar to the stage we would have used in a traditional year's ceremony. Each graduate's two guests will watch them walk across the stage, cheer them on and take their photo. Students can wear their regalia if they choose to purchase it or a DePaul jersey, any Blue Demon gear or just a nice outfit. This is really a moment that the graduates can make their own.

We're also going to have a professional photographer in the canopy taking photos if students are interested in purchasing them.

LINDA BLAKLEY: So, we are in the middle of a global pandemic and while we are all happy to see that many are getting vaccinated, what procedures are in place to ensure everyone's safety?

SALMA GHANEM: The health and safety of the DePaul community has been and continues to be one of our highest priorities. I can assure all of our listeners that the on-campus event will follow all COVID-19 protocols.

Graduates and guests will be required to wear a face mask over their nose and mouth at all times while on campus. They must also complete the DePaul's #CampusClear app which involves a questionnaire. And they will have to practice physical distancing.

For our out-of-state graduates and our guests, we are asking that they follow Chicago's Emergency Travel Order.

But as I mentioned before Linda, graduates will only be able to bring two guests with them. We won't be making any exceptions to this because we want to ensure we abide by the city's restrictions and avoid any large gatherings.

I mean, it's really good to see that the pandemic is slowing down and we want to make sure it continues.

LINDA BLAKLEY: One last question. What can we expect from the virtual ceremonies?

SALMA GHANEM: Well actually, last year's virtual ceremonies really turned out well and I think this year's is going to be even better. Each college will have their own virtual ceremony that will be either on May 22 for the College of Law or June 12 for the other colleges.

While they're going to start on those dates, graduates and their families will be able to watch and re-watch them at any time for the next year. Every single graduate will be recognized with their own slide that is read aloud during the ceremony and will include their name, degree, major, and honors.

The ceremonies will also include a speech from Dr. Esteban, our President, myself, and the dean and the student speaker from each college.

I would also like to mention that we will have a notable guest speaker. Listeners should keep a lookout in Newsline for more information about this speaker's identity in the coming weeks.

LINDA BLAKLEY: Thank you Salma, for joining me today to give us all a better idea of what's to come to celebrate the Class of 2021. I'm looking forward to watching the upcoming virtual ceremonies and can't wait to hear how Graduation Celebration goes.

SALMA GHANEM: Thank you, Linda and thank you for giving me the opportunity to share this with our audience.

LINDA BLAKLEY: For more information on how to register and prepare for Graduation Celebration and to upload information for the personalized slide, visit the commencement website or check out this episode's related content.

I'm Linda Blakley. Thank you for listening to another episode of DePaul Download, presented by DePaul's Division of University Marketing and Communications.