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UMass Amherst plans to hold four in-person commencements in May with no guests

Unlike a traditional commencement where family members and friends pack into the school football stadium, students will instead walk across the stage without onlookers in the stands.
Unlike a traditional commencement where family members and friends pack into the school football stadium, students will instead walk across the stage without onlookers in the stands.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

UMass Amherst will host four in-person commencement ceremonies in May for its graduating class, according to school officials.

But instead of walking across the stage while family and friends cheer, graduates will be greeted with an empty stadium.

Unlike a traditional commencement where family members and friends pack McGuirk Alumni Stadium, students will instead walk across the stage with no one in the stands, school officials said Friday. Only graduates — no guests — will be allowed at the ceremonies, which are scheduled for May 14.

“These will be in-person gatherings, although by necessity they will require much different arrangements as we protect the safety of our students and the community amid the pandemic,” Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said in an e-mail to students.

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A livestream of the ceremony will be available for those unable to attend the ceremonies, which will be “smaller and shorter,” Subbaswamy said.

Graduates will be required to socially distance, wear masks, and follow health guidelines, the e-mail said. Additional details, including testing requirements for students to gain access to the ceremony, will become available in the coming weeks.

“I’m really grateful that the seniors will be able to have a commencement,” said Sara McKenna, a UMass senior who was involved with the planning of the ceremonies. “Even though it will be different than in years past, I think that we found the best possible way to hold a commencement in person while considering everyone’s safety.”

University officials planned the commencement with a group of students, all of whom advocated for an in-person event if it could be done safely, McKenna said.

“As for deciding whether or not to hold an in-person event, University Relations did a lot of work to find the number of students we could safely hold in McGuirk and coordinated with other departments to ensure we could make this happen,” she said.

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Zach Numan, a senior at UMass, was elated with the school’s decision to host an in-person ceremony.

“I’m glad UMass made the call and I think it’s the right decision,” Numan said. “It’s a shame guests can’t come, but it’s also a shame this entire pandemic happened.”

A ceremony for the Class of 2020, whose commencement was replaced with a virtual event last spring, will be held during Homecoming week in November, the e-mail said.

Jonathan Kermah, who graduated from UMass last year, said he’s always been motivated by “a dream my mother had of seeing me walk across that stage.”

“As the world comes closer to being back to ‘normal’ or whatever you would call life before the pandemic with vaccine circulation, I understand the rush to have an in-person commencement as it’s a special day in the lives of so many,” Kermah said.

After persevering through years in poverty, Timothy Scalona, a first-generation student, wants to mark his achievement by walking across stage in November.

“Having survived deep poverty and struggled against barriers to success in high school and college, I long dreamt of crossing the graduation stage as a role model for my six siblings,” he said. “I only hope UMass organizes the ceremonies in a safe manner and ensures first-generation graduate students also have the opportunity to experience in person ceremonies.”

Matt Berg can be reached at matthew.berg@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattberg33.