A Time To Celebrate

Whether in-person or virtual, 2021 commencements will be a time to remember for CSU graduates.


In 2020, the pandemic forced campuses to celebrate commencements virtually. This year, celebrations will look a bit different, especially as California begins to loosen its COVID-19 restrictions. While the CSU will not see a full return to traditional ceremonies—some campuses will continue with virtual commencements—many have found creative ways to mark the milestone in person for both 2020 and 2021 graduates.

​Each CSU campus is following state and county guidelines to ensure any event maintains the safety of those in attendance, and many campuses will also provide livestreams of their events for those who can’t or choose not to attend.

“In this most extraordinary year, I offer my deep admiration, gratitude and sin​​cere congratulations to a most extraordinary class of graduates,” Chancellor Joseph I. Castro wrote in a letter to this year’s graduates. “As numerous forces upended our world, you held your dreams steadily in sight and persisted in your studies through challenges none of us could have imagined.”

Take a look at how a few campuses plan to celebrate their graduates.

In-Person Ceremonies

With safety measures in place, such as mask wearing, social distancing and limits on guests in attendance, a number of CSU campuses have planned more traditional ceremonies.

Graduates at California State University San Marcos will be able to walk across the commencement stage during five in-person ceremonies organized by each college. They will be able to invite two guests to the viewing audience.

“My sisters are very important to me, and to have them attend my graduation ceremony was always something I pictured," says Gladys Guzman, '21, CSUSM graduate with a double major in sociology and criminology and justice studies. “However, even if I will not be allowed to have them physically present with me because of the two-guest limit due to CDC guidelines, I am grateful I will have the opportunity to walk across the stage and have my parents witness one of their daughters graduating. Not only is a graduation ceremony important for us as students, but as the first one in my family to graduate, it is also a way to honor and thank those who believed in and supported my journey."

Last year, CSU San Marcos hosted its first Graduates on Parade celebration as a substitute for a traditional commencement event. The parade was so beloved by students that it will become an annual tradition. This year, the event will not only give individuals another option if they are not yet comfortable attending the in-person ceremony, but it will allow graduates to celebrate alongside even more of the support system that helped them on their journey.

Moving its ceremony from the quad to Bodnar Field, California State University Maritime Academy has also planned for a traditional commencement with a two-guest limit.

“Commencement means everything I have worked night and day for over the last few years was worth it," says Connor Crutchfield, '21, Cal Maritime graduate and Corps of Cadets Commander. “With in-person commencement, I am grateful I get to spend the last couple moments as a student at Cal Maritime with those who have helped me get to this point in my life."

California State University, Chico announced an in-person ceremony for graduates only—but will also keep its virtual ceremonies for family, friends and graduates not attending in-person commencement.

“Celebrating commencement with an in-person ceremony means I will be able to experience that special feeling of accomplishment, while surrounded by the peers I've gotten to know in my department throughout my four years," says Kayley Parr, '21, Chico State graduate in communication design. “I am grateful I will be able to walk across the stage in person and gain a sense of closure as I move on to my next chapter!"

Car-mencement Ceremonies

From drive-in ceremonies to parades, campuses have also found ways for students to celebrate graduation with friends and family from the safety of their vehicles.

At California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, students and their guests will drive in to the commencement venue—similar to a drive-in movie—where large screens and a stage will be set up. The ceremony will include the elements of a traditional ceremony, and students will be able to exit their car and walk across the stage.

“Although it's not a normal commencement ceremony, I'm actually really excited we've been given the opportunity to have a drive-in commencement ceremony with approval to cross the stage after worrying we weren't going to be able to have anything," says CPP communication graduate, Courtnee Owens, '21. “I'm really grateful that Cal Poly Pomona is working hard to make sure 2020 and 2021 grads are recognized for our accomplishments."

CARme​ncement at California State University, Sacramento will likewise allow graduates to celebrate together from their cars. As students drive through campus, commencement speeches and videos will play along the route while faculty and staff cheer them on. Though graduates will not be able to walk across a stage, there will be two Recognition Zones where graduates will be individually honored.

“As a graduating senior, I completely sympathize with how difficult this has been for my fellow graduates," Noah Marty, '21, Sacramento State ASI president and political science graduate, says in a campus article. “This isn't how any of us imagined our graduation ceremony to be, but the university undertaking a completely new challenge to give our class a graduation experience is incredibly commendable."

Virtual Ceremonies

Several campuses have deemed virtual ceremonies the best option to maintain the safety of their faculty, staff, students and their families.

California State University, Northridge, for example, will hold campus-wide and college-based virtual commencements for its graduates featuring degree conferral, speeches and student recognition. William Watkins, Ph.D., CSUN vice president for student affairs and dean of students wrote on April 2​, 2​021, that even with fewer restrictions, the size of the campus's graduating class makes an in-person ceremony impossible, “even with no guests in attendance."

“Having a virtual commencement isn't my preference, but it tells me the staff of CSUN are doing their best to honor the efforts of the graduating classes while also trying to keep everyone safe and healthy," says Cyrus Shafii, '21, CSUN graduate in English.

However, CSUN will also host a series of commencement car parades following the virtual event and will add at least one commencement day in 2022 and 2023 for 2020 and 2021 graduates.

“The chance to drive through campus would give me the opportunity to say good-bye not just to CSUN's campus, but to this entire chapter of my life," Shafii says. “While it's a shame I won't be able to do this while walking across a stage surrounded by my peers, I do appreciate the symbolic gesture driving through campus offers. I'll be separated physically from my peers and CSUN's staff within the confines of the car, but I won't be alone. Even distanced, we're still together in a way."

Check your respective campus website for information and livestreams, and keep in mind campus plans may continue to change in the coming weeks.