Senate House will remain empty this summer as students graduate in absenceAmy Batley

Following the announcement in May that graduation ceremonies might not resume ‘for more than a year’ the University and Colleges’ Congregations Working Group has begun to outline plans for the alternative ceremonies.

The planned ceremonies are to be held in the Senate House and are intended to be ‘as close as possible to the usual in-person graduation,’ wrote Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Graham Virgo in a letter to graduating students.

The letter explains that the aim is to allow students to reunite in their college and process to the Senate House in academic dress. Those students who are still to graduate will have their degrees conferred as normal. Meanwhile, students who have graduated in absence, described as ‘‘celebrated’ graduands’’ will have their degrees celebrated in a similar way.

The ceremonies would be almost identical, with only difference being in the Latin that is spoken whilst the students are graduating.

Several colleges have encouraged students to graduate in absence – in absentia – so that they can be conferred their degrees now, which is often a requirement for further study or employment, rather than later.

Virgo aims for these ceremonies to take place in 2021, with the Working Group currently ‘consulting with Colleges on a range of potential dates for 2021’, depending on social distancing guidelines. Varsity understands that under current social distancing guidance, the capacity for Senate House is less than 80, compared to the usual 500.

Transcripts for degrees awarded during the pandemic will clearly state that assessments were modified as a result of Covid-19 and will provide a link to a detailed explanation of the nature of the assessments.


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Pembroke has told students that it aims for cohorts to graduate together. In practice, this would mean that students would be in the same graduation ceremony with the students with whom they ‘were originally scheduled to graduate’ with this summer.

Some colleges, including Magdalene and Churchill, are planning virtual celebrations which will be held this summer. In some cases, this might entail a smarter dress code fitting with the occasion and some student speakers saying a few words about their time at the college.

Berry Groisman, Praelector of Sidney Sussex College, ensured that the college will “endeavour to make parallel arrangements to ensure the Sidney side of that celebration is also a worthy substitute for what we are all going to miss”.

Moored Arbabzadah, Praelector at Pembroke College, told students that the College plans to offer events around graduation as normal, including a graduation dinner the evening before and a graduation lunch on the day of the ceremony.