Social distancing was a key part of this year's outdoor commencement ceremonies in Cardinal Stadium.

During three outdoor ceremonies over two days, approximately 2,400 graduates crossed the stage for the first in-person commencement ceremonies since 2019.

The ceremonies on May 7 and May 8 were held for the first time at Cardinal Stadium. They included not only Spring 2021 graduates but members of the class of 2020, whose commencement exercises had been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Each graduate was allowed to invite eight guests, whose seats were scattered around the stadium to allow for recommended social distancing. Graduates sat on the field in chairs set 6 feet apart.

Graduates took selfies on the field at Cardinal Stadium May 8, 2021.

Although there was no student procession and no handshakes were allowed, graduates and their guests cheered, waved and took photographs to mark the occasion. Graduates were each individually recognized as they walked across the stage, many flashing their “Ls” and waving at the livestream camera that allowed the ceremonies to be broadcast around the world on UofL’s YouTube channel. 

UofL President Neeli Bendapudi told the audiences the period that started in March 2020 put resiliency to the test.

“To many, this has been the longest year, the longest year,” she said. “The time when time stood still. When days became indistinguishable from one another and when screen fatigue became real.”

Planning for the outdoor ceremonies began in January. The Commencement Planning Committee met weekly to ensure the ceremonies would celebrate achievements while adhering to safety standards recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All plans were approved by the governor’s office.

A graduate crosses the stage during commencement ceremonies May 8. UofL President Neeli Bendapudi, center, presided over three ceremonies at Cardinal Stadium May 7-8, 2021.

“You are among less than 7% of the population of the world that has at least a bachelor’s degree,” Bendapudi told the graduates. “That’s an achievement and a reason to be grateful. Your degrees are from a Research 1 university, that puts you as graduating from a college that is in the top 3% of all colleges and universities in the country. Your degree is from the United States of America. For all its flaws and shortcomings, this is still the beacon of hope around the world.”