University Hall at the University of Montana, Missoula, Montana.

The University of Montana announced the spring commencement ceremony scheduled for May 9 will be canceled due to COVID-19, but students may be able to participate in smaller commencement ceremonies in communities across Montana and other regions in the fall.


The Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education made the decision to cancel all Montana University System spring commencement ceremonies Friday, March 3.


UM’s 123rd commencement ceremony was previously scheduled for May 9 at the Adams Center. UM plans to celebrate on the same day with a video highlighting graduating seniors’ time at UM.


Students and families will be invited back to campus in September or October for an in-person commencement ceremony, according to the email. Graduating seniors will be able to walk across the stage, receive diplomas and toss their caps into the air. 


For seniors unable to return to campus for the ceremony, UM Provost Jon Harbor and some faculty want to travel to communities across Montana and other regions nearby to hold smaller commencement ceremonies.


“We understand this is not the way any of us wanted to mark such a momentous occasion,” the email stated. “However, we will ensure it is special and imbues the Grizzly spirit.”


Smaller ceremonies may be held for every department at a future date as well. Graduation regalia will be fully refunded if bought through the UM vendor, and diplomas will be mailed. UM asked graduating seniors for feedback and suggestions regarding the proposed replacement plans through an online survey.


Senior Morgan Eliasson, an elementary education major, has been waiting for the email sent this morning and is surprised by the three plans set forth by UM. She doesn’t know if she will be able to attend the postponed commencement ceremony. “I'm hoping by then that I'll be teaching, and I don’t know if I'll take the time to go and graduate in September,” she said.


Eliasson said she is still applying to jobs and doesn’t know where she is going to be living in the future. She doesn't know if she will be close enough to Missoula to attend one of the smaller, traveling ceremonies UM plans to complete.


Eliasson had sent graduation announcements to friends and family. Now, she has to go back and let them know that the date is postponed to an unknown date.


“I understand completely. It’s just sad that everybody has to go through this,” Eliasson said. “We worked so hard.”