CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — It’s expected to be the biggest event on campus since the vaccine entry requirement took effect, but officials planning University of Illinois commencement in May are confident they can handle three classes worth of graduates.
COVID scuttled the big event at Memorial Stadium the past two Mays. In 2020, the U of I produced a video. In 2021, the school allowed students to cross the stage at the Krannert Center. But the ceremony will return on May 14 with the classes of 2020 and 2021 invited back.
The U of I’s Senior Director of Special Events Laura Wilhelm-Barr said graduates from those prior classes must register to attend. She expects “a fraction” to return, leading officials to believe they can accommodate all the students on the field and all the spectators in the west stands. Wilhelm-Barr did not expect to split the event into two ceremonies. That approach was taken years ago when commencement was at the building then called Assembly Hall, now State Farm Center.
Unless rules change by May, all attendees must show proof of COVID vaccination or a recent negative test to get into commencement. And masks must be worn in enclosed spaces in the stadium. Wilhelm-Barr said officials are looking into how to avoid long lines at entrances as everyone’s status must be checked. She said, “[The athletic department] will be a partner” in those conversations, referring to the current basketball season where fans are checked before entering State Farm Center.
Barr said commencement typically draws around 20,000 people, but this year’s event will see more since other classes are invited back. The event also usually goes on rain or shine – unless the weather is so severe that it threatens safety.
The featured speaker at commencement will be former U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team coach and former U of I women’s soccer coach Jill Ellis. She was set to be the 2020 speaker before that event was canceled, and her slot was carried over to 2022.