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UMW pivots for COVID-era commencement ceremonies

From UMW:  

Commencement at UMW – University of Mary Washington

Hannah Checkeye ’21 will cross the University of Mary Washington Commencement stage this weekend with more than she could have imagined when she came to campus four years ago.

The University of Mary Washington will hold nine separate Commencement ceremonies for the Classes of 2020 and 2021 over the course of four days, May 6 to 9. Photo by Norm Shafer.
The University of Mary Washington will hold nine separate in-person Commencement ceremonies for the Classes of 2020 and 2021 over the course of four days, May 6 to 9. Photo by Norm Shafer.

She chose UMW because it gave her a pathway to pursue two passions: lacrosse and med school. Successful in both, she’s among a handful of students accepted into an early selection program at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. She’s just one example of UMW graduating seniors who are “Portraits of Perseverance,” having excelled in academics and extracurricular activities through a worldwide pandemic and turbulent times.

And COVID only enhanced her college experience.

With pandemic precautions in place, Checkeye is one of 1,100 graduates who will turn their tassels – ready to take on a world that’s already handed them test after test – during UMW’s in-person 2020 and 2021 Commencement festivities. The event will look different this year, with nine separate ceremonies over the course of four days, May 6 to 9. But, Checkeye said, “I’m still super excited to get to graduate in person!”

Visit the UMW Commencement Page for details and upcoming livestreams.

COVID wreaked havoc on UMW’s 2020 Commencement – postponed twice – and called into question how the 2021 event would be handled. But UMW has risen to the occasion, adhering to the state’s guidelines and accommodating members of the classes of 2020 and 2021. All the ceremonies are taking place on the fenced Campus Recreation Field adjacent to U.S. Route 1.

Hannah Checkeye, who will graduate with the Class of 2021 this weekend, has been accepted into George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. During COVID, she worked as a medical scribe for three Fredericksburg hospitals.
Hannah Checkeye, who will graduate with the Class of 2021 this weekend, has been accepted into an early selection program at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. During COVID, she worked as a medical scribe for three Fredericksburg hospitals.

As both the campus and local community realize: Graduation is the capstone of a years-long journey, and it’s especially notable in the midst of a global pandemic. Having an in-person ceremony, albeit in an altered state, is meaningful to both graduates and their families.

It’s not the traditional Ball Circle event with huge crowds and mega pomp and circumstance, but Checkeye’s excited: “My friends and I were all able to get the same time slot, and I’m very grateful my family can be there.”

A psychology major with minors in Spanish and biology, she’s president of UMW’s Cap and Gown chapter of Mortar Board, the national honor society for college seniors; co-president of Psi Chi, the international honor society in psychology; and an active participant in Best Buddies and the pre-health club. On top of all that, she has researched the role of verbal behavior in healthcare.

That’s where COVID coalesced with her career plans. Working as a medical scribe in the emergency rooms of three Fredericksburg hospitals, Checkeye would accompany health care providers and take detailed chart notes as the patients talked about symptoms, health history and more. “I have learned so much during this opportunity,” she said, noting that COVID made her job even more relevant and critical, nudging her toward a career in emergency medicine.

Checkeye, from Pennsylvania, is one of 780 graduates participating in the Class of 2021 ceremonies. Of the alumni who should have had a ceremony at this time last year, 320 are returning. Each participant is allowed up to four guests. The schedule is as follows:

Ceremonies for the Class of 2020:

  • Thursday, May 6 at 10 a.m.
  • Thursday, May 6 at 1:30 p.m.
  • Friday, May 7 at 10 a.m.

Ceremonies for the Class of 2021:

  • Saturday, May 8 at 9 a.m.
  • Saturday, May 8 at 12:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, May 8 at 3:45 p.m.
  • Sunday, May 9 at 9 a.m.
  • Sunday, May 9 at 12:30 p.m.
  • Sunday, May 9 at 3:45 p.m.

The format of each ceremony has been modified and shortened, and is the same for each of the nine separate events. They will take place rain or shine; if weather conditions are severe at the time of any ceremony, it will be cancelled.

All participants are masked and socially distanced. Thorough cleaning occurs between ceremonies.

This truly is a town-gown undertaking. Students will line up in the 1700 block of Sunken Road, which will be closed to traffic. “We have been grateful for the city’s flexibility as we worked out the most viable of options in order to safely accommodate so many graduates and guests,” said Commencement Coordinator Ali Gauch Hieber. “Neighborhood leaders and city officials have been gracious and welcoming, from lifting parking restrictions to encouraging guests to make use of local businesses and services.”

Graduates and their families are being encouraged not only to depart campus as quickly as possible after attending the ceremony but also to take advantage of opportunities to visit area businesses.

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