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Virtual Commencement and In-Person Graduation Ceremonies

Dear graduating students,

On April 22, I wrote announcing that I will get back to you with more information regarding our virtual University commencement on June 19, and on our plans to hold an in-person, on-campus graduation event in the future. I asked you to share your ideas, and I have received many thoughtful replies.

We intend to ensure that both the virtual commencement and in-person ceremony offer you and your loved ones the full graduation experience. Both events will allow us to honor your extraordinary accomplishments. Some of you are first-generation college graduates. Others are triple-purple grads with multiple Northwestern degrees. All of you are cherished members of the worldwide Northwestern family.

Here are some details about our plans for the virtual commencement this spring and the in-person graduation ceremony, which will take place in June 2021:

Virtual Commencement

As we’ve done for 161 years prior, our administration and trustees will recognize your accomplishments across our many disciplines. Your degrees will be conferred on June 19, 2020, at 11 a.m. CT, which reflects a time change to accommodate those students on the West Coast. I realize that some of you will have obligations next spring that might make it difficult to attend the in-person graduation event, and others may find it difficult to travel at that time, especially those living overseas. That is why we intend to make this virtual ceremony every bit as rich and meaningful as possible.

We’ll have a full roster of speakers, including some of your student peers, and we will be conferring honorary degrees on trailblazers in a number of fields, including Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who will be our featured speaker.  

Our schools will be in touch with you soon regarding their own plans surrounding commencement.

Spring 2021 In-Person Graduation Ceremonies

Public-health experts have suggested that it may be some time before it is safe to hold large-scale public gatherings, but we know that an in-person event is incredibly important to our students and families, and is essential for our community. We believe that the most responsible way to hold a top-notch ceremony, to recognize you individually and as a member of the Class of 2020, is to schedule it close to next year’s graduation ceremonies. We will invite all 2020 graduates back to campus to celebrate your accomplishments in June 2021. We will recognize you as a class throughout Graduation Weekend —honoring graduate students during a convocation ceremony, and undergraduates with a stand-alone graduation ceremony distinct from celebrations of the Class of 2021. We will confirm a date as public-health guidance becomes clear, but we anticipate holding it Saturday, June 12, 2021.


Please make sure to visit our regalia page on our commencement website. There, you can order your own regalia, which Northwestern is providing for free this year in response to your requests. They will be yours to wear on June 19, to bring back to campus next June for your in-person graduation ceremony, and to keep forever. Please order them by the end of the day on Sunday, May 10. The Northwestern Bookstore will make every effort to ensure your regalia arrives before the June 19 ceremony.


We will mail your diploma to your home address after commencement, along with any honor cords you may have earned. To ensure delivery of these items, please log into your CAESAR profile to verify your current address is correct.

Finally, if you have any questions related to commencement, please contact the Commencement Office via email, at, or by phone, at (847) 491-3600. To follow Northwestern updates on COVID-19, please visit our COVID-19 information page.

I look forward to sharing these graduation experiences with you. I hope that this once-in-a-lifetime moment will be a twice-in-a-lifetime one. 



Morton Schapiro
President and Professor