UM Graduation 9.JPG (copy)

University of Montana President Seth Bodnar stands at the podium as he begins the commencement ceremony in May 2019. UM will need to find an alternative to the planned May ceremony after the university system asked all campuses to cancel.

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The Montana University System canceled all spring graduation ceremonies due to coronavirus concerns, and left it up to campuses to decide what to do instead for graduates.

In a Wednesday email to campus leaders, Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian said he was asking all campuses to cancel spring 2020 in-person commencement ceremonies for the safety of students and their families.

“Commencement is a ritual — a celebration of achievement and of the hope and opportunities that lie ahead. It is a canvas on which lifelong memories are painted. But as we know all too well, this spring is different,” Christian wrote. “The safety of our graduates, their families and the communities surrounding our campuses supersedes our desire to mark this important milestone in person.”

In the email, Christian said he was leaving it to each campus to decide the best way to replace the spring ceremony, whether it was by postponing it or by choosing to “leverage new technologies.”

In an email sent to students Friday, UM President Seth Bodnar said the flagship would share a video celebration on May 9, the planned date of commencement, and is planning to hold an in-person replacement ceremony in September or October. Bodnar also said UM would be taking its "trusty bus" on the road to bring small ceremonies to towns around Montana for people who can't make it back to Missoula for the postponed ceremony.

"These would be smaller ceremonies in which you and your family will be able to join the provost, a few deans, some faculty members, our staff and myself as we confer your degrees in or near your hometowns," Bodnar wrote.

A press release about the cancellation said stops for the commencement bus tour would include Seattle; Portland, Oregon; and Spokane, Washington; as well as smaller towns such as Havre and Browning. 

The release also said students who have already paid for gown rentals will be fully refunded, and diplomas will be mailed as normal.

University of Montana–Western in Dillon announced it would be holding a virtual commencement ceremony on May 9, asking students to visit the school's website on that day. The press release from the school did not mention any further ceremonies in place of the in-person commencement.

In an email to students, Montana State University said it would invite all spring graduates to its winter commencement on Dec. 19, and would be sending "Commencement in a Box" to all graduates for virtual departmental ceremonies in May, which will include diploma covers, tassels, and balloons for students to inflate at home.

This article originally ran on missoulian.com.

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