Lawrence University will hold a Commencement ceremony on June 13, a celebration of the accomplishments of the Class of 2021.

The 10 a.m. outdoor ceremony moves from its traditional location on Main Hall Green to the Banta Bowl to allow for physical distancing and other COVID-19 protocols.

In a message to seniors, President Mark Burstein praised the students’ commitment to following pandemic protocols, allowing Lawrence to keep the spread of COVID-19 in check and thus be able to hold an in-person Commencement.

“Since your arrival in Appleton, I have had the honor of watching you take full advantage of the Lawrence experience,” Burstein said. “Your successes as Lawrentians are even more meaningful in light of the challenges of this past year.”  

Here are nine things to know (and a couple of bonus notes) about Commencement 2021:

1. We’re back in person: It was a year ago that Commencement had to be moved to a virtual ceremony as the pandemic was in full force and Spring Term classes were fully remote. A year later, with vaccines available and the number of COVID cases across the country in rapid decline, the decision was made to hold an in-person event but move it to the more spacious Banta Bowl and limit attendance. Masks will be required; each graduate will be allowed up to two guests, to be seated in pairs; and social distancing will be maintained.

2. All graduates are welcome: While not all members of the Class of 2021 have been living on campus during the academic year, all have been invited back to participate in the Commencement ceremony. Lawrence is requiring that all students participating in the in-person ceremony be fully vaccinated for COVID-19. Nearly 280 seniors are eligible to walk at the ceremony.

3. Getting there: Graduates will be shuttled from campus to the Banta Bowl. For faculty, staff, and guests, a limited amount of parking will be available at the Banta Bowl. Priority will be given to individuals needing accessible parking or other special needs. Look for parking at Mead Pool (across John Street) or on nearby streets. Give yourself time to find parking and to possibly walk a block or two. You can find a parking map here.

4. Watch it live: For those who can’t get into the Banta Bowl or choose not to, the ceremony will be streamed live on Lawrence’s YouTube channel. You can find it here and can access it at any location where Wi-Fi is available. You can use the live chat feature to offer your congratulations during the ceremony (note that you’ll need to log into a Gmail or YouTube account to access the live chat).

Mark Burstein speaking at the podium during commencement
President Mark Burstein will preside over his final Commencement.

5. Presidential remarks: Always a big part of Commencement, this year’s address from Burstein will have special significance. This will be his final Commencement as he prepares to leave Lawrence after eight years. The 16th president in Lawrence’s history said he relishes each Commencement he has been a part of since arriving in Appleton.

“It is not only the culmination of the academic year, it is the culmination of students’ progress through Lawrence and the celebration of real accomplishment by faculty,” Burstein said. “So, it’s just a moment where everything comes together, and each Commencement is clear in my mind and an event that I really cherish.”

Side profile of Jailene Rodriguez while she paints
Jailene Rodriguez ’21, here taking part in an Advanced Painting class earlier this year, was chosen by classmates to be the senior speaker at Commencement.

6. Senior speaker: This year the honor goes to Jailene Rodriguez ’21, an ethnic studies and Spanish double major from New York. She will speak to her class about the journey they’ve been on together and the world that is unfolding in front of them as they take their individual paths.

A standout in the classroom, Rodriguez also has been active in other parts of the Lawrence community. She played on the women’s soccer team, was active in student clubs, has been a manager at the Viking Room, and earned the John Alfieri Tuition Scholarship in Spanish. She’s a member of Posse 11 and plans to return to New York to pursue work in the nonprofit sector.

“I want my class to remember to keep finding ways to learn and grow with any opportunities that open to them,” she said of her message to classmates. “I want them to remember to be as unapologetically themselves as possible.”

Headshot of Dr. John Raymond
Dr. John R. Raymond Sr. will give the 2021 Commencement address.

7. Commencement speaker: Dr. John R. Raymond Sr., president and CEO of the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW), will deliver the Commencement address. He emerged as an important voice across Wisconsin during the pandemic, providing guidance on safety protocols and the challenges of keeping the spread of the virus in check. The Lawrence Pandemic Planning Team leaned into Raymond’s advice often as decisions were made about how to proceed on campus.

Raymond said he will speak to the graduates about resiliency and the lessons they can take from the past 15 months.

“The resiliency that students show is an example for the rest of us about how to be flexible when we face challenges, as well as how to persevere through our social networks, through finding our passion for making a difference, and for being innovative under duress,” he said.

8. Faculty honors: Three Lawrence University faculty members will be honored during the ceremony when the annual faculty awards are announced—Award for Excellence in Scholarship, Award for Excellent Teaching by an Early Career Faculty Member, and Award for Excellence in Teaching. A year ago, the award winners were announced in advance of Commencement because of the ceremony having to go virtual. This year the tradition returns, with the awards being revealed as part of Commencement.

9. Faculty retirees: Another Commencement tradition that returns this year is the honoring of faculty who are heading into retirement. Retirees include Terry Gottfried (psychology), Gerald Metalsky (psychology), Alan Parks (mathematics), Jerald Podair (history), and Bruce Pourciau (mathematics). Watch for a coming feature on the news blog at that shines a light on all five retirees.

Two students walking across Main Hall Green surrounded by trees
Main Hall Green is always picturesque

Bonus: Photos on campus: Following the ceremony, students will be shuttled back to the main campus. Families will be able to meet up with their students at that point to take photos. There are multiple great locations on campus for photos. We’ve provided some suggestions here. If you share that photo or other well-wishes on social media, use the hashtag #LawrenceGrad. You can find a Grad Celebration Kit complete with fun social media tools here.

Bonus II: There are more weekend events: The Sunday ceremony won’t be the only in-person event for the graduates. Other traditions will continue during Commencement weekend, including:

  • Senior Art Show is available for viewing June 11-13, but you’ll need to plan ahead. Members of the Class of 2021 can request a time for friends and family to visit the exhibit in the Wriston Art Galleries. Visits are available 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday; and noon-2 p.m. Sunday. See details here and take a virtual peek here.
  • The Commencement Concert will be held at 7:30 p.m. in Memorial Chapel. The in-person audience will be limited, but it will be streamed live, with a link provided shortly before the event. See details here.
  • The Baccalaureate Service will be held at 3 p.m. Saturday in Memorial Chapel. It will be a multi-faith celebration of the spiritual journey of the Class of 2021. It will be streamed live, with a limited number of in-person seats available for Lawrence students, faculty and staff. A form for requesting an in-person seat can be found on the Commencement page at

Need more? Graduates and their families can find Commencement information here and FAQs here.