College life in Philly

Drive-thru graduation? How Philly colleges and universities plan to celebrate commencement 2021

Some schools are hosting in-person events, while others are staying virtual.

universityofpennsylvania-upenncommons-crop
Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital
courtneymurphy-headshot

💌 Love Philly? Sign up for the free Billy Penn email newsletter to get everything you need to know about Philadelphia, every day.


As the second pandemic commencement season nears, Philly-area colleges and universities are scrounging for creative ways to send off their spring 2021 graduates.

Some are hosting in-person ceremonies with safety restrictions, some are staying all-virtual, others are offering a combination of livestream and face-to-face, and one school is even hosting a drive-thru event. Rules about guests vary, with some schools allowing a limited number, and others restricting attendance to students only.

Whichever way it goes down, there’s no question seniors will miss out on the experience of a traditional college graduation. A diploma is a diploma, however, even without the usual cheers from families and friends.

Here’s how each institution of higher learning in the Philadelphia region is planning to hand out college degrees. *walking march music plays from a laptop speaker*

Drexel University

The West Philly school will host a university-wide commencement ceremony at Citizens Bank Park on Friday, June 11. The number of guests allowed per graduate will depend on the city’s safety restrictions on that date. (As of April 1, the ballpark is welcoming no more than 8,800 fans.) All 12 undergraduate schools and colleges also plan to have separate virtual ceremonies between Monday, June 7, and Thursday, June 10.

Haverford College

Spring 2021 graduates will have their commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 29, but the college has not announced a location, time, or whether students may invite guests. The possibility of an all-virtual ceremony remains an option, according to the school website.

Jefferson University

In-person ceremonies are being planned for the school, which recently merged with the former Philadelphia U. They’ll be held at the Mann Center in Fairmount Park on May 13,14, and 25, depending on which campus and college students attend. As of this writing, only graduates and a small number of faculty may attend. A livestream of the ceremony will be available for friends and family.

University of Pennsylvania

Undergraduate seniors who followed the school’s regular COVIDs protocol this semester and test negative in advance will be able to attend an in-person ceremony for the Ivy League school’s 265th commencement, held Monday, May 17, at Franklin Field. No guests will be allowed, and the event is contingent on the state of the pandemic, according to the university website. Graduate and professional school ceremonies will be virtual.

St Joseph’s University

The City Avenue school plans to hold in-person ceremonies on campus on Saturday, May 22. Graduates can have a limited number of guests, although a live stream of the ceremony is optional. The number of guests per graduate will be announced no later than April 9. The Class of 2020 will have a ceremony on Saturday, October 16.

Swarthmore College

Commencement will be all-virtual, and the college is working with class officers to develop an online graduation experience. Details and dates have not yet been set.

Temple University

The North Philadelphia school will hold a virtual university-wide commencement ceremony on Thursday, May 6. Individual colleges will hold in-person ceremonies at various on-campus locations on May 6, 7, 10, 20 and 21. No guests are allowed at any of the events.

La Salle University

Both the class of 2020 and class of 2021 will have separate in-person commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 15, at Lincoln Financial Field. An in-person Baccalaureate Mass will take place on Friday, May 14, at McCarthy Stadium. Each graduate is expected to be permitted two to four guests for commencement and two guests for the mass.

Widener University

Ever heard of a drive-thru ceremony? It’s one of three options hosted by the Chester college this year, open to both 2020 and 2021 graduates. Participants will drive up to a platform located on an on-campus street, get out for a symbolic degree presentation, and return to their car. A second vehicle with family can also come along.

Alternately, graduates can opt for an in-person mini ceremony option where 100 or fewer people will attend a socially distanced event at Memorial Field. Graduates who don’t wish to attend either can choose an all-virtual ceremony. Events will take place Tuesday, May 11, through Saturday, May 15.

Villanova University

In-person ceremonies are a go for the Wildcats, with each graduate allowed two guests. On Friday, May 14, the school will hold a Baccalaureate Mass in the morning, followed by bachelor’s degree ceremonies. Saturday, May 15, will be for masters, doctoral, and professional school graduates. All events will also be live-streamed.

University of the Arts

The Center City art school is hosting a virtual commencement experience on Saturday, May 22. At a later date, the university does plan to host in-person celebrations for both the 2020 and 2021 graduates.

Community College of Philadelphia

Commencement is scheduled for Saturday, May 8, but it’s still unclear whether the ceremony will be fully virtual or have an in-person component.